The Zalozhniy Quartet

The Wrong Side of History

Dawn smeared the eastern sky, fingers of light reaching through the rolling dunes. In less than an hour, the sun would be up and the temperature would begin to soar. Patrick and Rosario had managed to winch Katya’s limp body out of the pit on a rudimentary stretcher and were loading her into the back of the 4×4. A thick wad of gauze was wrapped tightly around her left shoulder and throat. She was stable, but the wound was bad. She was drifting in and out of consciousness.

Somerset clambered up out of the shaft, carrying a bundle wrapped in a handkerchief. Patrick raised an eyebrow. “That’s it?” he asked.

“Yep.”Somerset’s reply was terse. “Let’s get it out of here.”

“What’s the plan?” Rosario asked. “Are we going back to Riyadh?”

Somerset shook his head. “Not unless we have to. How soon will she recover?” He jerked his head at Katya, her chest rising and falling in a shallow, but even, rhythm.

“She needs a hospital. If she stays hydrated and the wound doesn’t open up, well, she’ll be okay where she is for a few days or more. But she does need proper medical attention.”

“Good, then we’ll make for Yemen. It’s a couple of extra day’s travel but, if we’re lucky, we’ll avoid anyone who picked up our trail in Riyadh.”

Rosario glanced uncomfortably at his patient, but accepted the logic behind Somerset’s decision. The boiling sun had crested the dunes now and was already beating down on the back of his head with an almost physical force. “We won’t get far today,” he said. “But we should at least move away from this place.”

Somerset glanced back over his shoulder at the hole, scowling. “Agreed. You stay with Katya. I’ll take the lead vehicle. Patrick can drive you for the time being. We’ll get a few miles under us before we stop for the day.”

They finished loading the rest of their gear while Somerset took a roll of duct tape and the Nigredo and slid himself under his 4×4. When he emerged, the Nigredo was safely stowed, hidden from all the but the most persistent inspection. Moments later they were accelerating out across the undulating sand, leaving a billowing, dusty wake behind them. As they bounced and rattled across the dunes, Rosario watched Katya where she lay, silent and unconscious. What now, he wondered. They had the Nigredo. They were supposed to destroy it. But how? On top of that, only Katya and he knew that the Albedo was already lost. Would that matter if they could somehow neutralise the other part?

He considered this as the vehicles weaved through the desert, the sun rising steadily through the sky above them. Then his ears caught a low sound, barely audible above the labouring diesel engine.

“Anyone else hear that?” Rosario asked into his radio.

“Hear what?” Somerset’s voice crackled.

Rosario felt the blood drain from his face. “Helicopter,” he said, his sweat suddenly cold on his skin.

Patrick swore poetically from the front seat.

“Stay calm,” Somerset ordered. “We don’t know who it is yet.” The rhythmic chatter of the helicopter blades was easy to discern now. Rosario craned his neck trying to see where it was coming from. “There’s a lot of oil exploration out here,” Somerset continued. “Could be that it’s just …” His voice trailed off as the lumpen profile of a gunship floated out of dunes, like a gross, misshapen insect. Its shape was clearly military, not a design used by oil explorers.

“That’s a bloody Hind!” Patrick yelled.

“Patrick,” Somerset’s voice crackled through the radio. “Throw your satphone out the window.”

“What?! How will that … ?”

“Just do it!”

Patrick’s window lowered and the black plastic handset disappeared out into the dunes. “Done,” he said. Ahead, he could see Somerset leaning forward in his seat tucking something behind his back. “You’ve got a plan, right?” the Irishman asked.

“Split up?” Rosario suggested.

“Sure, sure. It can only follow one of us, right?”

Most of Somerset’s exasperated response was lost in the thunderous downdraft as the huge Russian Mil Mi-24 soared overhead, only a dozen feet from the top of the 4×4s. “It will only have to follow one of us when the other is a smoking hole in the desert. Just keep driving.”

The massive aircraft lurched round and slowed its forward momentum before descending rapidly into a depression a few hundred yards ahead. As it flank came into view, they could see the Overwatch Security marking on the tail. Rosario’s heart sank further. This was no coincidence – they were definitely the target. There would be no running. Not when their tire tracks were leaving an unmissable trail for leagues behind them. Darkness was their only hope, and sunset was hours away. The giant helicopter rose again and turned, rocket pods and autocannons swinging lazily towards them.

A swarm of dark figures crested the dune ahead and fanned out across the sand.

“Nothing else for it then,” Somerset said bitterly. He carried on slowly towards the soldiers, each of whom carried a large, automatic rifle. Somerset stopped beside them and lowered the driver’s side window. “What seems to be the problem, officer?” he asked sarcastically.

“Get out of the vehicle,” the man barked. He had an American accent. Resigned, Somerset killed the engine and stepped out. Rosario and Patrick copied him, clambering out of their own 4×4. Other soldiers ushered them away to where Somerset stood defiant, staring down their commander, though he was a head shorter than the big man.

The troops surrounded them and pushed them roughly to the ground. Oven hot sand stung Rosario’s eyes and filled his mouth as a heavy rubber sole pressed down on him.

“There’s another one in the back here,” a soldier called. “A woman. Seems to be injured, sir.”

“Bring her out,” the commander ordered. Rosario tried to rise, but the force on his head only increased as he squirmed. He heard Katya moan as she was dumped on the floor beside them, then she fell silent, lapsing back into unconsciousness.

“Where is the Nigredo?” the American asked.

No one answered.

“Where is the Nigredo?” he asked again. His voice was authoritative, with no hint of annoyance. “I am not going to ask a third time.”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about.” Somerset replied, his voice muffled by the clogging sand.

The American did not reply, but Rosario saw him motion to one of the attending soldiers. A gunshot cracked and Patrick gasped in pain and swore.

“Stop!” Rosario yelled, “Please, it’s hidden under the chassis. Lead vehicle. Just stop!”

The weight on his head abruptly vanished and he looked up, blinking the sand out his eyes and spitting.

“You!” the leader ordered Somerset, who was already glaring angrily at Rosario. “Fetch.”

Somerset dusted himself off and walked back towards the stationary 4×4. Patrick whimpered in pain where he lay still curled on the ground, clutching his chest.

“Please,” Rosario said to the nearest soldier. “He’s hurt, at least let me see the wound.”

The soldier tuned his head towards his commander, who gave a curt nod, before striding away in pursuit of Somerset. He was pulling himself under the 4×4 for the second time that morning.

Rosario dropped down beside Patrick. “Let me see,” he said.

Patrick uncurled himself, moaning in pain. As he rolled over, he caught Rosario’s eye. His face twitched in what for a fraction of a second looked like a wink.

Rosario checked the bullet wound. The Irishman had been lucky. The bullet had been stopped by his thin kevlar vest. Even so, he’d likely have a few cracked ribs and some serious bruising. As Rosario examined the area, where the skin was already beginning to turn purple, the young man gasped and clutched at Rosario’s hand. He felt a small metallic object being pressed into his palm. He had stifle a smirk as he told Patrick to lay down and rest. Then Rosario slipped the tracker bug up his sleeve.

Somerset finished detaching the concealed lump of black rock and dragged himself back out from beneath the vehicle. A fresh set of feet had joined the military boots, these ones clad in a pair of cheap leather loafers.

“Dawlish!” a refined English accent said in mock surprise. Somerset pulled himself to his feet and found himself face to face with Daniel Chambers.

“We’ll take that, if you don’t mind,” Chambers drawled.

Somerset held the American commander’s eye in a cold stare. He dropped the Nigredo into the man’s gloved hands with a dismissive snort. It didn’t do to look beaten, especially when you were. He turned away from the American to face the MI6 agent.

“Chambers,” Somerset said, his voice sounded more hoarse than he would have liked. “I’d hoped you were dead.”

“Sorry to disappoint, old boy.”

“There’s still time,” Somerset muttered. He looked Chambers up and down, noting that he was carrying himself a little awkwardly, as though recovering from recent injury.Evidently he hadn’t escaped Beirut completely unscathed.

“Well,” said Chambers. “This has been fun. But the game is over for you now. I’m afraid that being on the wrong side of history can be, well, fatal.” He turned away, gesturing to the American commander.

“You’re going to have your lackeys shoot us?” Somerset asked, forcing scorn into his voice.

Chambers paused, then looked back. “No.” He drew out the word as if he was pondering the contents of a wine list. “Bit suspicious, I suppose.” He turned to the American. “Leave them here. But wreck the vehicles.”

“I’ll finish what that thing in the graveyard started,” growled Somerset.

Chambers chuckled. “I’m sure you won’t. Oh, while I remember, I’ll have your satphone, please.” He held out his hand.

Somerset stared at him blankly.

“Come now, old boy. Not even someone as reckless as you would risk coming out here without one.”

Somerset stayed silent, staring the two men down. The American unholstered a handgun in a fast, fluid movement, racked the slide and, taking a half step forward, lunged the sun-warmed barrel into Somerset’s cheek. Chambers rolled his eyes in feigned embarrassment.

“Fuck you. Fine. Here it is.” Somerset reached down the back of his trousers and produced his satphone from where it had been nestled between his buttocks.

“Classy,” Chambers observed drily. He took the phone carefully between his thumb and forefinger, then dropped it to the floor and stamped down hard. There was a crack. He stamped again and the plastic case split apart, a cracked circuit board visible in the guts of the ruined device. “Goodbye, Dawlish,” Chambers said and walked away.

The circling Hind returned to its original landing site and began to settle, like a vast nesting bird. Abandoning the four captives, the Overwatch soldiers swarmed the vehicles. Some opened the bonnets, others reached underneath. Metal screeched in protest and liquid splashed to the sand.

“No!” Rosario shouted, lurching to his feet. “You’ll kill us all, you bastards!” He grabbed at the nearest trooper, one hand clutching at the man’s desert tunic, the other deftly planting the tracker bug under a fold in his webbing. For his trouble he received a rifle butt to the head that left his ears ringing. He landed hard in the sand once again. The soldiers, their work finished, filed back towards the waiting helicopter.

“Chambers!” Somerset called at the retreating figure, his voice almost drowned by the roar of the huge rotors. “I’ll be seeing you again.”

As the Hind vanished over the Northern horizon, Rosario and Somerset carried Katya into the small shade afforded by the ruined 4×4s. “We’ll need to get the shelter up. I think we’ll be here a while,” Somerset said. He turned to Patrick. “How’s the chest, by the way?”

Patrick shrugged. “I’ll live. I don’t feel much like hiking out of here though.”

“Fair enough,” Somerset replied. “Back in ten.” Then he walked out into the desert heat, following their tracks back to find the abandoned satphone.


Saleem arrived several hours later in a Bell helicopter and a foul mood. The flight back to Riyadh was tense. Rosario fed his old instructor a lie about them being on their way to an archeological dig when their vehicles had broken down. Saleem seemed far from convinced, but he calmed down slightly when Rosario made it clear that he would foot the bill for the hire of the helicopter. After that, the old Arab opened up a little, grumbling about the increased number of influential, but not entirely desirable, foreigners they’d had entering the Saudi capital over the past few days. The team, minus Katya, who was still drifting in and out of consciousness, shared a worried look.

The helicopter dropped them off at a hospital helipad in Riyadh and Katya was immediately checked in. She would need surgery, but she might be out within a fortnight, the doctors hoped. Rosario had known her wound was serious, but this was a major blow. Despite the terrible betrayal she had confessed to him in the car before they found the Nigredo and its twisted guardian, he’d been counting on her to be there at the end.

Leaving the hospital, they split up and arranged staggered check-ins at a new hotel. They chose somewhere closer to the centre, a little more upmarket than their usual choice. That meant the possibility of greater scrutiny than their typical no-questions-asked dive, but it was good tradecraft to vary their routine and it put them in the Olaya district, at the commercial heart of the city.

The place was clad decked in faux-marble which refracted the halogen spotlights which might once have looked chic, but now felt tired, though it gave the hotel a cool, sanitary air. Late that evening, Rosario let himself into Somerset’s room and nodded to Patrick. The younger man was ripping cables out of the back of the cheap LCD television and hooking them into one of his many laptops. Rosario slumped down into a creaking sofa chair and stared through a crack in the curtains at the view down King Fahd street, where neon lights framed office towers, shopping malls and highrises. Looming above them all was the Kingdom Center skyscraper, the city’s crown jewel. Its iconic, split oval void glared down at him, lit in fiery orange.

Patrick, seeming satisfied with his hijacked screen, pulled the computer into his lap and began typing. Lines of indecipherable code scrawled down the monitor and Patrick read off some geographic coordinates.

“Okay, the bug’s touched down,” he said, the information tumbling out of him without intonation. “Battery is almost out. Hasn’t moved in a few hours. Looks like the location’s pretty near by … here.”

The screen abruptly switched to a map view, showing an area to the north of Riyadh. Crossed and parallel lines resolved themselves into runways.

“Must be a private airfield,” Somerset observed from across the room, where he’d been lamenting the lack of mini-bar.

“Yep,” Patrick agreed, “Here’s the helipad too.” He indicated a flat, hexagonal piece of tarmac. “That must be where Overwatch Security are holed up.”

The screen changed again as Patrick typed rapidly. “The chopper is actually registered in a base outside Baghdad. It’s a long way from home. Would need a few fuel stops to get back. I guess it’s going to stay here for a while.” Patrick looked up, the light from the laptop giving his face a manic gleam.

“Oh, no,” Somerset, shaking his head vehemently. “I know what you’re thinking. The answer is no. N. O. No. That place will be crawling with those Overwatch pricks.”

Subdued, but clearly far from dissuaged, Patrick resumed his machine-like rattle as his fingers flew across his keyboard.

“Besides,” Rosario observed. “We don’t have any idea as to where they’ve taken the Nigredo yet. It might not even be in Riyadh any more.” The knowledge that the Albedo was already lost was weighing heavily on him. If Somerset found out, he would be gone in an instant. That wasn’t an excuse for not informing him, not by any stretch, but if he left, the operation would be over. He couldn’t risk that, not when there was a glimmer of hope. They were still alive. That was something.

Somerset has been speaking, but Rosario had missed the words while he struggled to align his thoughts. “Sorry, I missed that,” he said.

Somerset narrowed his eyes, then continued. “I said I think it’s still here. I’ve started following up on what your friend Saleem said. He’s right. Lots of strange folk coming into Riyadh at the moment, according to some. Now that we know Chambers has turned, I’ve put in a call to one of my former colleagues. Maybe they’ll turn up something.”

“If all these people are arriving, maybe they’re planning to use the ritual to activate the Nigredo, whatever that entails,” Rosario suggested.

Somerset looked uncomfortable. “Fits with what Katun told us, I suppose, but I’m not sure how they’ll manage without the Albedo. Either way, I’m eager to reclaim our ugly black rock. It wasn’t easy to find. But to do that-”

“We need work out where the ritual is happening,” Rosario finished. “We’ll need a list of ancient sites in or near the city. Somewhere that dates back to the Sumerian civilisation, perhaps?”

Somerset shook his head. “No, I don’t buy that. Your perspective is warped.” Rosario made to interrupt but Somerset waved him to silence. “Just hear me out. Christianity, the Vatican, robed priests following centuries old ceremonies – that’s your schtick. If I say ritual, all you can see are sites of ancient power,” Somerset spoke the last few words with a mocking emphasis. However, we’ve actually seen nothing to suggest that our … opponents … whatever the hell they are … nothing says they’ve got the slightest interest in sites of historical significance."

“Oh sure, and what about that hole in the desert? The one we just got back from?” Rosario asked indignantly.

“That belongs to the Bedouin tribe. The Al Murrah. The other lot didn’t even know about until 24 hours ago.”

“What about Dragovir?” Patrick asked, looking up from his screen.

Somerset frowned, rubbing his chin. “Maybe, but that seemed different somehow. There was something living there and it wasn’t like the others.” In truth, he didn’t like thinking about it and not just because of Sergei.

“Humph, well, it doesn’t matter anyway,” said Rosario. “We’re going to need a more information than this if we’re to make a move. I suspect the city is full of Overwatch and it would be more convenient for them to remain ignorant of our survival. For now, let’s keep our heads down and our ears open. Something will come up.”

“Sure,” Somerset replied. “I hope so.” He didn’t sound very confident.


Katya opened her eyes. Whitewashed walls, disinfectant smell. So, not dead then. Her throat was numb and she felt as though she was wrapped in a soft, warm blanket. She must have been given something for the pain. She glanced around, only moving her eyes for now. A drip hung to her left, slowly releasing its contents into her veins. She turned her head fractionally. She felt a sensation of tightness on her neck, but she didn’t pass out from pain. Good. She wriggled her fingers and toes. All present and correct. Very good.

Next, she tried raising her head but was immediately overcome by dizziness. She slumped to the pillow, took a few long breaths and tried again. The dizziness passed. She could see the rest of the room now, her legs stretched out on the bed, a single worn chair, a shuttered window and a man standing watching her.

“You look terrible,” he said. He spoke in Russian. He had greasy grey hair and a sickly pale complexion. His eyes glittered with dark glee and a cruel smile curled his wet lips.

“Dorjiev,” she croaked. It hurt to speak. She lowered her voice to a hoarse whisper, which eased the pain slightly. “You should have told us about Philby.”

“What about him?”

“He was still … alive.”

“He was?” Dorjiev sounded almost as amused as he did surprised.

“He had the Nigredo.”

“Ah,” Dorjiev nodded knowingly. “And where is it now?”

“My team,” Katya began uncertainly. Her memory was fuzzy, she remembered the sand, the heat, some shouting maybe? “My team had it.”

“That’s good. Where are they?”

“I don’t know. There’s a protocol. I can contact them.”

“First, you must discharge yourself. I will heal your wounds. I have special techniques.” A predatory grin lit Dorjiev’s pale face.

Katya clamped down on her fear. “Okay,” she said, she wanted to learn his secrets, access his power. She pulled herself up to sitting, fought off another wave of dizziness, then slid her legs off the gurney and stood, pulling the drip from her arm.

A nurse bustled in and gasped. She began to usher Katya back toward the bed, but Dorjiev intercepted her. “I’m taking her to a different hospital. Bring me your discharge forms.” The nurse retreated, grumbling. Katya retrieved what remained of her clothes from a drawer and began pulling them on. Dorjiev made no attempt to avert his eyes while she changed.

“So what happened to the Albedo?” Katya asked over her shoulder.

“They cheated me!” Dorjiev exclaimed. “They killed one of my children, who I created with my own hand.”

[[MIGHT THIS HAVE BEEN A GOOD POINT TO ASK D TO DEFINE WHOTHEYWERE IN A NON-META SENSE?]]

“My condolences,” Katya said dryly, turning to face him. “I’m ready to go.”

They took a taxi to the outskirts of the city. Dorjiev didn’t attempt to continue their conversation. She was glad for the chance to stay quiet since it meant the pain from her throat had reduced to a dull ach,e although the heat inside the car was making her head swim. Where was the team? Was she alone?

Dorjiev ordered the cab to a halt on the dusty roadside. They climbed out and waited until the bemused driver had disappeared back towards the city. Dorjiev led her towards the side of the road. She stumbled, her treasonous legs turning to jelly beneath her. She fell to her knees. Dorjiev scoffed impatiently. Beyond the tarmac, the ground fell away sharply, forming a ragged gulley. A human figure appeared, dressed in Arab robes. It bounded easily up the steep slope on its powerful legs. Orange static bloomed behind her eyes as the Zalozhniy swept her up into its arms. She was dimly aware of the smell of embalming salts as her vision faded to blackness.


She awoke for the second time. This room was dark, its walls uneven and glistening with moisture, almost like … a cave. Another drip had been attached to her arm, though it was no clear, sanitary liquid this time. Instead, the substance leaking slowly into her was dark and oily. On her other side, a blood bag fed directly into her right arm, yet another unknown liquid invading her body.

“Good, you’re awake at last,” Dorjiev said from somewhere behind her. “Drink this.”

The Zalozhniy carried a glass of liquid to her and pressed it to her lips. It tasted bitter. When she swallowed, she could feel her body flood with numbing cold.

“What are you going to do to me?” she asked. She must sound like a frightened girl she thought angrily.

“I am going to operate on you,” Dorjiev answered, his feral smile returning. “I will see to it that your wound recovers more efficiently. For now you should relax. Do not move. Just listen to my voice.” He reached towards a tray of shining instruments then began to remove the bandages from her neck. He prattled while he worked, commenting on the condition of the wound and speaking commands to the attendant creature. After a while his line of conversation began to meander, until he was discussing the principles of his work, as though he were with some academic peer. “Have you ever considered the notion of time?” he asked abruptly. “It is my opinion that time is not a linear phenomena, like a piece of string, but is instead folder like fabric, or knotted if you prefer.”

She wondered whether this related to the videos she’d retrieved from Dorjiev’s laboratory at Dragovir and the time dilation effect that occurred whenever a Zalozhniy killed. Why was he telling her this? Since she could not speak, she just stared at him where he loomed above her.

“These things you will need to know. You must assist me in the preparation of Zalozhniye. It is difficult to do, you must have the right corpse. There must be the right conditions. Time is not on our side.”

Finally he’s going to give me some of his secrets, she thought. She closed her eyes, I’ve got to remember this so I can do it without him. She sighed, her throat rasping. He’ll never let me leave him, she thought, and the team won’t take me back. She was damned.

Later, when he had finished his procedure and had bound her neck once more, she sat sideways on the edge of the makeshift stretcher. She asked him, “What will they do with the Albedo?”

He looked up at her from where he had been arranging his instruments. He answered in a slow, hesitant cadence. “The Organisation plans to do something awful to humanity, to treat us as cattle, even me!” The last part he almost shouted. She knew that it was this affront to his ego that bothered him the most. Good, that’s something I can use, she thought.

Her neck was feeling surprisingly good now, though it still twinged when she prodded at the bandages. She found that was able to stand again without feeling faint, so she made her way outside and dialled the number for Rosario’s burner phone.

He answered, cautiously, supplying the pre-arranged code. Once she’d given the answering phrase, he continued. “It’s good to hear from you. How have you- how are you doing?” He couldn’t keep the surprise and suspicion from his voice.

“I’m feeling better. Where’s the Nigredo?”

The was a long silence at the other end. “Katya, I’m sorry. Overwatch found us. They have the Nigredo now.”

She swore several times in Russian.

“We’re working on it,” he said. “We’ll find something, I promise.”

“Okay. There’s nothing else we can do. This is not good though.”

Rosario agreed, but the note of concern never left his voice. “Katya, what happened at the hospital?”

“I checked out.”

Rosario paused again, thinking. “It’s Dorjiev, isn’t it. You’re with him now.”

She bit her lip. No getting out of this. “He’s an ally, Rosario. We need him.”

“Somerset won’t see it that way.”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry. We’ll need him too before this is done. You’ll have to decide how to handle him.”

Rosario sighed wearily. “I’ll think of something,” he said.

“I’ll go break the news about the Nigredo. Dorjiev will not be happy. But I don’t think this changes things. We all know what needs to be done.”

She closed the handset and ducked back into the cool dark of the tunnel.


After Rosario hung up, he made his way to Somerset’s room. He was nervous – he didn’t know whether the suspicious Englishman would simply accept Katya’s implausibly early release from the hospital. He’d seen the creature’s attack first hand, after all.

A ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign hung from the door handle. Rosario knocked and a few seconds later, he heard movement behind the peephole. The door swung open. The room was gloomy despite the bright daylight outside and the aging air conditioner rattled and wheezed in the far wall. Somerset’s chin was stained with a dirty stubble and his shirt was crinkled and untucked.

A pile of Arabic newspapers had accumulated beside a laptop – the same one Patrick had been tinkering with when they’d last met two days prior – which Somerset returned to as soon as he’d let Rosario into the room. He leaned over the computer and tapped at a few keys. He turned to where a series of colour printouts had been taped to the pale wallpaper to form a map of Riyadh, then swore beneath his breath. He grabbed a coffee cup and raised it to his lips, before dropping it again once he realised the cup had long since been drained.

“Are you okay, friend?” Rosario asked. He hadn’t seen this side of Somerset before. From the moment he had met him, this man had always been ruthlessly single-minded in setting out to achieve whatever goal was set in front of him, no matter the odds. Now, when the mission had all but ground to halt, all direction seemed to have leaked out of David Somerset.

“Yeah, sure. Been chasing leads on our Overwatch friends. And their masters. Whoever the hell they are.”

“Find anything?”

“No, god damn it. Everywhere I look, there’s whispers … such and such was seen on a flight to Riyadh a couple of days, so and so was transferring money into who-the-fuck-knows shell corporation based in Riyadh.” He laughed, though the sound was devoid of merriment. “I even found a bunch of weird Occult kiddies on a forum complaining about sleep paralysis, evil presences, visions and so forth. And gues what, they’re all based in Riyadh.” He ran his hand through his close-cropped hair. “All the chatter says Riyadh, just not where. Nor why.”

“Have faith, friend,” Rosario reassured him. “Something will come up.”

Not for the first time, he’d misjudged the agent’s mercurial intensity. The blue eyes blazed. “No, you don’t fucking understand, do you?” Somerset fumed. “If we don’t figure something else soon, then it’s over. Done. We’ve got a narrow window to plan whatever it is we’ve got to plan, else we’d be going in blind. And that’s not an option. These aren’t small time players any more. We’ll be dead men. No, far better to cut our losses and walk away. But will we even be able to, I wonder? We’re in, in up to our necks.” He caught himself, realising he was ranting. “I don’t … I don’t know that we can win this,” he admitted.

“I have news. Katya called.”

Somerset just stared at him. Rosario could see the gears turning behind his eyes. “That was quick,” he said eventually. His voice gave nothing away.

Rosario just shrugged, deciding to play dumb. “She sounded well. I think she’ll be able to rejoin us, when we need her.”

“Hmm, well that’s rather-” Somerset’s phone started ringing, it’s electronic warble stopping him mid sentence. He snatched it up in an instant. Rosario had the feeling he’d just dodged an uncomfortable line of conversation.

“Hello, Dawlish,” Alec Nicholson said.

“Alec, tell me you’ve got something,” Somerset urged, jamming the phone to his ear.

“All in good time. First of all, sorry about that business with Daniel Chambers. He’s MIA by our books. Was part of an SIS op’ in Beirut. Seems almost the whole bloody operational team was completely wiped out. No sign of Daniel afterwards. Of course, the odd vanishing act isn’t too uncommon in our line of work, as you well know, but if what you say is true, then he’s gone rogue.”

“Fat lot of good that does me now, Alec,” Somerset said irritably.

“Look, there was no reason to distrust him prior to this- ahem- ‘incident’.”

“Just tell me you’ve got something else for me to go on.”

“Ah, yes. There’s a German company, Millenium Group, subsidiary of KyssenThruppe AG, looks like they’re connected to some of your ‘friends’. I’ve recently tracked a large financial transaction of theirs to Riyadh.”

“Good. Great. But where? Where’s the money going?”

Alec told him. A few minutes later Somerset hung up and dropped the phone to the table. He turned to Rosario, eyes shining with renewed energy.

“Found something?” Rosario asked.

“Oh, yes. And you were wrong, you know,” Somerset said, turning to the window. “There’ll be no ancient tombs or lost desert temples or what have you. I’m reliably informed that certain German organisation with connections to one Black Sea Bank has recently hired out a large accomdation and conference area right here in Riyadh. They’ve paid top dollar, too. No expense spared.” He paused. “Any last guess as to where?”

“Not a clue,” Rosario grinned. “Come on, man, where is it?”

Somerset paused theatrically, then flung open the curtain. The sunlight stung their eyes as the gloomy suite was abruptly flooded with blazing desert sunshine. The view from the window was dominated by the enormous structure of the Kingdom Centre, blue sky reflected in the latticed mirror windows. The building clawed its way skyward, its huge parabolic arch stretching three hundred meters into the air. It was a powerful symbol of man’s dominance over nature, a vast expression of modernity. It was the last place Rosario would have thought of.

“Huh,” he said.

“Expensive, exclusive and, most of all, secure. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it from the start,” Somerset mused. “Now let’s get busy. We’ve got three days.”

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