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I Am Pilgrim / (by Terry Hayes, 2014) -

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I Am Pilgrim /   (by Terry Hayes, 2014) -

I Am Pilgrim / (by Terry Hayes, 2014) -

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I Am Pilgrim / (by Terry Hayes, 2014) -
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2014
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Terry Hayes
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Christopher Ragland
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upper-intermediate
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22:41:16
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64 kbps
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mp3, pdf, doc

I Am Pilgrim / :

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: I Am Pilgrim

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Part One Chapter One THERE ARE PLACES Ill remember all my life red square with a hot wind howling across it, my mothers bedroom on the wrong side of 8-Mile, the endless gardens of a fancy foster home, a man waiting to kill me in a group of ruins known as the Theatre of Death. But nothing is burnt deeper in my memory than a walk-up in New York threadbare curtains, cheap furniture, a table loaded with tina and other party drugs. Lying next to the bed are a handbag, black panties the size of dental floss and a pair of six-inch Jimmy Choos. Like their owner, they dont belong here. She is naked in the bathroom her throat cut, floating face down in a bathtub full of sulphuric acid, the active ingredient in a drain cleaner available at any supermarket. Dozens of empty bottles of the cleaner DrainBomb, its called lie scattered on the floor. Unnoticed, I start picking through them. Theyve all got their price tags still attached and I see that, in order to avoid suspicion, whoever killed her bought them at twenty different stores. Ive always said its hard not to admire good planning. The place is in chaos, the noise deafening police radios blaring, coroners assistants yelling for support, a Hispanic woman sobbing. Even if a victim doesnt know anyone in the world, it seems like theres always someone sobbing at a scene like this. The young woman in the bath is unrecognizable the three days she has spent in the acid have destroyed all her features. That was the plan, I guess whoever killed her had also weighed down her hands with telephone books. The acid has dissolved not only her fingerprints but almost the entire metacarpal structure underneath. Unless the forensic guys at the NYPD get lucky with a dental match, theyll have a helluva time putting a name to this one. In places like this, where you get a feeling evil still clings to the walls, your mind can veer into strange territory. The idea of a young woman without a face made me think of a Lennon/McCartney groove from long ago its about Eleanor Rigby, a woman who wore a face that she kept in a jar by the door. In my head I start calling the victim Eleanor. The crime scene team still has work to do, but there isnt a person in the place who doesnt think Eleanor was killed during sex: the mattress half off the base, the tangled sheets, a brown spray of decaying arterial blood on a bedside table. The really sick ones figure he cut her throat while he was still inside her. The bad thing is they may be right. However she died, those who look for blessings may find one here: she wouldnt have realized what was happening not until the last moment, anyway. Tina crystal meth would have taken care of that. It makes you so damn horny, so euphoric as it hits your brain that any sense of foreboding would have been impossible. Under its influence, the only coherent thought most people can marshal is to find a partner and bang their back out. Next to the two empty foils of tina is what looks like one of those tiny shampoo bottles you get in hotel bathrooms. Unmarked, it contains a clear liquid GHB, I figure. Its getting a lot of play now in the dark corners of the Web: in large doses it is replacing rohypnol as the date-rape drug of choice. Most music venues are flooded with it: clubbers slug a tiny cap to cut tina, taking the edge off its paranoia. But GHB also comes with its own side effects a loss of inhibitions and a more intense sexual experience. On the street one of its names is Easy Lay. Kicking off her Jimmys, stepping out of her tiny black skirt, Eleanor must have been a rocket on the Fourth of July. As I move through the crush of people unknown to any of them, a stranger with an expensive jacket slung over his shoulder and a lot of freight in his past I stop at the bed. I close out the noise and in my mind I see her on top, naked, riding him cowgirl. She is in her early twenties with a good body, and I figure she is right into it the cocktail of drugs whirling her towards a shattering orgasm, her body temperature soaring thanks to the meth, her swollen breasts pushing down, her heart and respiratory rate rocketing under the onslaught of passion and chemicals, her breath coming in gulping bursts, her wet tongue finding a mind of its own and searching hard for the mouth below. Sex today sure isnt for sissies. Neon signs from a row of bars outside the window would have hit the blonde highlights in this seasons haircut and sparkled off a Panerai divers watch. Yeah, its fake, but its a good one. I know this woman. We all do the type, anyway. You see them in the huge new Prada store in Milan, queuing outside the clubs in Soho, sipping skinny lattes in the hot caf?s on the avenue Montaigne young women who mistake People magazine for news and a Japanese symbol on their backs for a sign of rebellion. I imagine the killers hand on her breast, touching a jewelled nipple ring. The guy takes it between his fingers and yanks it, pulling her closer. She cries out, revved everything is hypersensitive now, especially her nipples. But she doesnt mind if somebody wants it rough, it just means they must really like her. Perched on top of him, the headboard banging hard against the wall, she would have been looking at the front door locked and chained, for sure. In this neighbourhood, thats the least you could do. A diagram on the back shows an evacuation route she is in a hotel, but any resemblance to the Ritz-Carlton pretty much ends there. It is called the Eastside Inn home to itinerants, backpackers, the mentally lost and anybody else with twenty bucks a night. Stay as long as you like a day, a month, the rest of your life all you need is two IDs, one with a photo. The guy who had moved into Room 89 had been here for a while a six-pack sits on a bureau, along with four half-empty bottles of hard liquor and a couple of boxes of breakfast cereal. A stereo and a few CDs are on a night stand, and I glance through them. He had good taste in music, at least you could say that. The closet, however, is empty it seems like his clothes were about the only things he took with him when he walked out, leaving the body to liquefy in the bath. Lying at the back of the closet is a pile of trash: discarded newspapers, an empty can of roach killer, a coffee-stained wall calendar. I pick it up every page features a black and white photo of an ancient ruin the Colosseum, a Greek temple, the Library of Celsus at night. Very arty. But the pages are blank, not an appointment on any of them except as a coffee mat, it seems like its never been used, and I throw it back. I turn away and without thinking, out of habit really I run my hand across the night-stand. Thats strange: no dust. I do the same to the bureau, bedhead and stereo and get the identical result the killer has wiped everything down to eliminate his prints. He gets no prizes for that, but as I catch the scent of something and raise my fingers to my nose, everything changes. The residue I can smell is from an antiseptic spray they use in intensive-care wards to combat infection. Not only does it kill bacteria but as a side effect it also destroys DNA material sweat, skin, hair. By spraying everything in the room and then dousing the carpet and walls, the killer was making sure that the NYPD neednt bother with their forensic vacuum cleaners. With sudden clarity, I realize that this is anything but a by-the-book homicide for money or drugs or sexual gratification. As a murder, this is something remarkable. Chapter Two NOT EVERYBODY KNOWS this or cares probably but the first law of forensic science is Locards Exchange Principle, and it says Every contact between a perpetrator and a crime scene leaves a trace. As I stand in this room, surrounded by dozens of voices, Im wondering if Professor Locard had ever encountered anything quite like Room 89 everything touched by the killer is now in a bath full of acid, wiped clean or drenched in industrial antiseptic. Im certain theres not a cell or follicle of him left behind. A year ago, I wrote an obscure book on modern investigative technique. In a chapter called New Frontiers, I said I had come across the use of an antibacterial spray only once in my life and that was a high-level hit on an intelligence agent in the Czech Republic. That case doesnt augur well to this day, it remains unsolved. Whoever had been living in Room 89 clearly knew their business, and I start examining the room with the respect it deserves. He wasnt a tidy person and, among the other trash, I see an empty pizza box lying next to the bed. Im about to pass over it when I realize thats where he would have had the knife: lying on top of the pizza box within easy reach, so natural Eleanor probably wouldnt even have registered it. I imagine her on the bed, reaching under the tangle of sheets for his crotch. She kisses his shoulder, his chest, going down. Maybe the guy knows what hes in for, maybe not: one of the side effects of GHB is that it suppresses the gag reflex. Theres no reason a person cant swallow a seven-, eight-, ten-inch gun thats why one of the easiest places to buy it is in gay saunas. Or on porn shoots. I think of his hands grabbing her he flips her on to her back and puts his knees either side of her chest. Shes thinking hes positioning himself for her mouth but, casually, his right hand would have dropped to the side of the bed. Unseen, the guys fingers find the top of the pizza box then touch what hes looking for cold and cheap but, because its new, more than sharp enough to do the job. Anybody watching from behind would have seen her back arch, a sort of moan escape her lips theyd think he must have entered her mouth. He hasnt. Her eyes, bright with drugs, are flooding with fear. His left hand has clamped tight over her mouth, forcing her head back, exposing her throat. She bucks and writhes, tries to use her arms, but hes anticipated that. Straddling her breasts, his knees slam down, pinning her by the biceps. How do I know this? You can just make out the two bruises on the body lying in the bath. Shes helpless. His right hand rises up into view Eleanor sees it and tries to scream, convulsing wildly, fighting to get free. The serrated steel of the pizza knife flashes past her breast, towards her pale throat. It slashes hard Blood sprays across the bedside table. With one of the arteries which feed the brain completely cut, it would have been over in a moment. Eleanor crumples, gurgling, bleeding out. The last vestiges of consciousness tell her she has just witnessed her own murder; all she ever was and hoped to be is gone. Thats how he did it he wasnt inside her at all. Once again, thank God for small mercies, I suppose. The killer goes to prepare the acid bath and along the way pulls off the bloody white shirt he must have been wearing they just found pieces of it under Eleanors body in the bath, along with the knife: four inches long, black plastic handle, made by the millions in some sweatshop in China. Im still reeling from the vivid imagining of it all, so I barely register a rough hand taking my shoulder. As soon as I do, I throw it off, about to break his arm instantly an echo from an earlier life, Im afraid. It is some guy who mumbles a terse apology, looking at me strangely, trying to move me aside. Hes the leader of a forensic team three guys and a woman setting up the UV lamps and dishes of the Fast Blue B dye theyll use to test the mattress for semen stains. They havent found out about the antiseptic yet and I dont tell them for all I know the killer missed a part of the bed. If he did, given the nature of the Eastside Inn, I figure theyll get several thousand positive hits dating back to when hookers wore stockings. I get out of their way, but Im deeply distracted: Im trying to close everything out because there is something about the room, the whole situation Im not exactly sure what that is troubling me. A part of the scenario is wrong, and I cant tell why. I look around, taking another inventory of what I see, but I cant find it I have a sense its from earlier in the night. I go back, mentally rewinding the tape to when I first walked in. What was it? I reach down into my subconscious, trying to recover my first impression it was something detached from the violence, minor but with overriding significance. If only I could touch it a feeling its like its some word that is lying now on the other side of memory. I start thinking about how I wrote in my book that it is the assumptions, the unquestioned assumptions, that trip you up every time and then it comes to me. When I walked in, I saw the six-pack on the bureau, a carton of milk in the fridge, registered the names of a few DVDs lying next to the TV, noted the liner in a trash can. And the impression the word that first entered my head but didnt touch my conscious mind was female. I got everything right about what had happened in Room 89 except for the biggest thing of all. It wasnt a young guy who was staying here; it wasnt a naked man who was having sex with Eleanor and cut her throat. It wasnt a clever prick who destroyed her features with acid and drenched the room with antiseptic spray. It was a woman. Chapter Three IVE KNOWN A lot of powerful people in my career, but ive only met one person with genuine natural authority the sort of guy who could shout you down with just a whisper. He is in the corridor now, coming towards me, telling the forensic team theyll have to wait: the Fire Department wants to secure the acid before somebody gets burnt. Keep your plastic gloves on, though, he advises. You can give each other a free prostate exam out in the hall. Everybody except the forensic guys laughs. The man with the voice is Ben Bradley, the homicide lieutenant in charge of the crime scene. Hes been down in the managers office, trying to locate the scumbag who runs the joint. Hes a tall black man Bradley, not the scumbag in his early fifties with big hands and Industry jeans turned up at the cuff. His wife talked him into buying them recently in a forlorn attempt to update his image, instead of which he says they make him look like a character from a Steinbeck novel, a modern refugee from the dustbowl. Like all the other regulars at these murder circuses, he has little affection for the forensic specialists. First, the work was outsourced a few years back and overpaid people like these started turning up in crisp white boiler suits with names like Forensic Biological Services, Inc. on the back. Second and what really tipped it over the edge for him were the two shows featuring forensic work that hit it big on TV and led to an insufferable outbreak of celebrityhood in the minds of its practitioners. Jesus, he complained recently, is there anybody in this country who isnt dreaming of being on a reality show? As he watches the would-be celebrities repack their labs-in-a-briefcase, he catches sight of me standing silently against the wall, just watching, like I seem to have spent half my life doing. He ignores the people demanding his attention and makes his way over. We dont shake hands I dont know why, its just never been our way. Im not even sure if were friends Ive always been pretty much on the outside of any side you can find, so Im probably not the one to judge. We respect each other, though, if that helps. Thanks for coming, he says. I nod, looking at his turned-up Industries and black work boots, ideal for paddling through the blood and shit of a crime scene. What did you come by tractor? I ask. He doesnt laugh; Ben hardly ever laughs, hes about the most deadpan guy youll ever meet. Which doesnt mean he isnt funny. Had a chance to look around, Ram?n? he says quietly. My name is not Ram?n, and he knows it. But he also knows that, until recently, I was a member of one of our nations most secret intelligence agencies, so I figure hes referring to Ram?n Garc?a. Ram?n was an FBI agent who went to almost infinite trouble to conceal his identity as he sold our nations secrets to the Russians then left his fingerprints all over the Hefty garbage bags he used to deliver the stolen documents. Ram?n was almost certainly the most incompetent covert operator in history. Like I say, Ben is very funny. Yeah, Ive seen a bit, I tell him. What you got on the person living in this dump? Shes the prime suspect, huh? Ben can hide many things, but his eyes cant mask the look of surprise a woman?! Excellent, I think Ram?n strikes back. Still, Bradleys a cool cop. Thats interesting, Ram?n, he says, trying to find out if Im really on to something or whether Ive just jumped the shark. Howd you figure that? I point at the six-pack on the bureau, the milk in the fridge. What guy does that? A guy keeps the beer cold, lets the milk go bad. Look at the DVDs romantic comedies, and not an action film among them. Wanna take a walk? I continue. Find out how many other guys in this dump use liners in their trash cans? Thats what a woman does one who doesnt belong here, no matter what part shes acting. He weighs what Ive said, holding my gaze, but its impossible to tell whether hes buying what Im selling. Before I can ask, two young detectives a woman and her partner appear from behind the Fire Departments hazchem barrels. They scramble to a stop in front of Bradley. We got something, Ben! the female cop says. Its about the occupant Bradley nods calmly. Yeah, its a woman tell me something I dont know. What about her? I guess he was buying it. The two cops stare, wondering how the hell he knew. By morning, the legend of their boss will have grown even greater. Me? Im thinking the guy is shameless hes going to take the credit without even blinking? I start laughing. Bradley glances at me and, momentarily, I think hes going to laugh back, but its a forlorn hope. His sleepy eyes seem to twinkle, though, as his attention reverts to the two cops. Howd you know it was a woman? he asks them. We got hold of the hotel register and all the room files, the male detective name of Connor Norris replies. Bradley is suddenly alert. From the manager? You found the scumbag got him to unlock the office? Norris shakes his head. There are four drug warrants out for his arrest; hes probably halfway to Mexico. No, Alvarez here he indicates his female partner she recognized a guy wanted for burglary living upstairs. He looks at his partner, not sure how much more to say. Alvarez shrugs, hopes for the best and comes clean. I offered the burglar a get-out-of-jail-free card if hed pick the locks on the managers office and safe for us. She looks at Bradley, nervous, wondering how much trouble this is gonna cause. Her bosss face gives away nothing; his voice just drops a notch, even softer. And then? Eight locks in total and he was through em in under a minute, she says. No wonder nothings safe in this town. What was in the womans file? Bradley asks. Receipts. Shed been living here just over a year, Norris says. Paid in cash, didnt have the phone connected TV, cable, nothing. She sure didnt want to be traced. Bradley nods exactly what he was thinking. When was the last time any of the neighbours saw her? Three or four days ago. Nobodys sure, Norris recounts. Bradley murmurs, Disappeared straight after she killed her date, I guess. What about ID there must have been something in her file? Alvarez checks her notes. Photocopies of a Florida drivers licence and a student card or something no picture on it, she says. I bet theyre genuine. Check em anyway, Bradley tells them. We gave em to Petersen, says Norris, referring to another young detective. Hes on to it. Bradley acknowledges it. Does the burglar any of the others know the suspect, anything about her? They shake their heads. Nobody. Theyd just see her come and go, Norris says. Early twenties, about five eight, a great body, according to the burglar Bradley raises his eyes to heaven. By his standards, that probably means shes got two legs. Norris smiles, but not Alvarez she just wishes Bradley would say something about her deal with the burglar. If hes going to ream her out, get it over with. Instead she has to continue to participate, professional: According to a so-called actress in one-fourteen, the chick changed her appearance all the time. One day Marilyn Monroe, the next Marilyn Manson, sometimes both Marilyns on the same day. Then there was Drew and Britney, Dame Edna, k. d. lang Youre serious? Bradley asks. The young cops nod, reeling off more names as if to prove it. Im really looking forward to seeing this photofit, he says, realizing that all the common avenues of a murder investigation are being closed down. Anything else? They shake their heads, done. Better start getting statements from the freaks or at least those without warrants, which will probably amount to about three of em. Bradley dismisses them, turning to me in the shadows, starting to broach something which has been causing him a lot of anxiety. Ever seen one of these? he asks, pulling on plastic gloves and taking a metal box off a shelf in the closet. Its khaki in colour, so thin I hadnt even noticed it. Hes about to open it but turns to look at Alvarez and Norris for a moment. They are heading out, weaving through the firefighters, now packing up their hazchem pumps. Hey, guys! he calls. They turn and look. About the burglar that was good work. We see the relief on Alvarezs face and they both raise their hands in silent acknowledgement, smiling. No wonder his crew worships him. Im looking at the metal box on closer examination, more like an attach? case with a serial number stencilled on the side in white letters. Its obviously military, but I only have a vague memory of seeing anything like it. A battlefield surgical kit? I say, without much conviction. Close, Bradley says. Dentistry. He opens the box, revealing nestled in foam a full set of army dental instruments: spreader pliers, probes, extraction forceps. I stare at him. She pulled the victims teeth? I ask. All of em. We havent found any, so I figure she dumped em. Maybe she flushed them down the john and well get lucky thats why were tearing the plumbing apart. Were the teeth pulled before or after the victim was killed? Ben realizes where Im going. No, it wasnt torture. The coroners team have taken a look inside her mouth. Theyre pretty sure it was after death, to prevent identification. It was the reason I asked you to drop by I remembered something in your book about home dentistry and a murder. If it was in the US, I was hoping there might be a No connection Sweden, I say. A guy used a surgical hammer on the victims bridgework and jaw same objective, I guess but forceps? Ive never seen anything like that. Well, we have now, Ben replies. Inspiring, I say. The onward rush of civilization, I mean. Putting aside my despair about humanity, I have to say Im even more impressed by the killer it couldnt have been easy pulling thirty-two teeth from a dead person. The killer had obviously grasped one important concept, a thing which eludes most people who decide on her line of work: nobodys ever been arrested for a murder; they have only ever been arrested for not planning it properly. I indicate the metal case. Wheres a civilian get one of these? I ask. Ben shrugs. Anywhere they like. I called a buddy in the Pentagon and he went into the archives: forty thousand were surplus the army unloaded the lot through survival stores over the last few years. Well chase em, but we wont nail it that way, Im not sure anybody could His voice trails away hes lost in a labyrinth, running his gaze around the room, trying to find a way out. Ive got no face, he says softly. No dental records, no witnesses worst of all, no motive. You know this business better than anyone if I asked you about solving it, what odds would you lay? Right now? Powerball, or whatever that lotterys called, I tell him. You walk in, the first thing you think is: amateur, just another drug or sex play. Then you look closer Ive only seen a couple anywhere near as good as this. Then I tell him about the antiseptic spray, and of course thats not something he wants to hear. Thanks for the encouragement, he says. Unthinking, he rubs his index finger and thumb together, and I know from close observation over a long period that it means hed like a cigarette. He told me once hed given up in the nineties and there must have been a million times since then that hed thought a smoke might help. This is obviously one of them. To get over the craving, he talks. You know my problem? Marcie told me this once Marcie is his wife I get too close to the victims, ends up I sort of imagine Im the only friend theyve got left. Their champion? I suggest. Thats exactly the word she used. And theres one thing Ive never been able to do Marcie says it could be the only thing she really likes about me Ive never been able to let a friend down. Champion of the dead, I think. There could be worse things. I wish there was something I could do to help him, but there isnt its not my investigation and, although Im only in my thirties, Im retired. A technician enters the room fast, yelling in an Asian accent: Ben? Bradley turns. In the basement! Chapter Four THREE TECHNICIANS IN coveralls have torn apart an old brick wall. Despite their face masks, theyre almost gagging from the smell inside the cavity. Its not a body theyve found rotting flesh has its own particular odour this is leaking sewage, mould and a hundred generations of rat shit. Bradley makes his way through a sequence of foul cellars and stops in the harsh light of a bank of work lights illuminating the wrecked wall. I follow in his wake, tagging along with the other investigators, arriving just in time to see the Asian guy a Chinese-American who everyone calls Bruce, for obvious reasons shine a portable light deep into the newly opened space. Inside is a maze of cowboy plumbing. Bruce explains that, having torn up the bathroom in Room 89 without finding anything trapped in the U-bends, they went one step further. They got a capsule of Fast Blue B dye from the forensic guys, mixed it into a pint of water and poured it down the waste pipe. It took five minutes for all of it to arrive, and they knew if it was running that slow there had to be a blockage somewhere between the basement and Room 89. Now theyve found it in the matrix of pipes and illegal connections behind the wall. Please tell me its the teeth, Bradley says. She flush em down the toilet? Bruce shakes his head and shines the portable light on a mush of charred paper trapped in a right-angle turn. The pipe comes straight from Room 89 we tested it, he says, pointing at the mush. Whatever this is, she probably burnt it then sent it down the crapper. That was the right thing to do except she didnt know about the code violations. With the help of tweezers, Bradley starts to pick the congealed mess apart. Bits of receipts, corner of a subway MetroCard, movie ticket, he recounts to everyone watching. Looks like she took a final sweep through the place, got rid of anything she missed. He carefully separates more burnt fragments. A shopping list could be useful to match the handwriting if we ever find He stops, staring at a piece of paper slightly less charred than the rest. Seven numbers. Written by hand: 9. 0. 2. 5. 2. 3. 4. Its not complete; the rest has been burnt off. He holds the scrap of paper up to the group, but I know its me hes really speaking to, as if my job at an intelligence agency qualifies me as a cryptographer. Seven handwritten numbers, half destroyed: they could mean anything but I have one advantage. People in my former business are always dealing in fragments, so I dont just dismiss it. Among everybody else, of course, the speculation starts immediately bank account, credit card, zip code, an IP address, a phone number. Alvarez says theres no such thing as a 902 area code, and shes right. Sort of. Yeah, but we connect to the Canadian system, Petersen, the young detective built like a linebacker tells her. 902 is Nova Scotia. My grandfather had a farm up there. Bradley doesnt respond; he keeps looking at me for my opinion. Ive learned from bitter experience not to say anything unless youre certain, so I just shrug which means Bradley and everyone else moves on. What Im really thinking about is the wall calendar, which has been worrying me since I first saw it. According to the price on the back, it cost forty bucks at Rizzoli, the upmarket book store, and thats a lot of money to tell the date and never use. The killer was obviously a smart woman, and the thought occurred to me it wasnt a calendar at all to her: maybe she had an interest in ancient ruins. I had spent most of my career working in Europe and, though its a long time since I travelled that far east, Im pretty sure 90 is the international code for Turkey. Spend even a day travelling in that country and you realize it has more Greco-Roman ruins than just about any place on earth. If 90 is the country prefix, its possible the subsequent digits are an area code and part of a phone number. Without anyone noticing, I walk out and head for the quietest part of the basement and make a call to Verizon on my cellphone I want to find out about Turkish area codes. As I wait for the phone company to pick up, I glance at my watch and Im shocked to realize that dawn must be breaking outside it is now ten hours since a janitor, checking a power failure in the next room, unlocked the door to Room 89 to access some wiring. No wonder everybody looks tired. At last I reach someone on a Verizon help desk, a heavily accented woman at what I guess is a call centre in Mumbai, and find my memory is holding up 90 is indeed the dialling code for Turkey. What about 252? Is that an area code? Yes, a province its called Mu?la or something, she says, trying her best to pronounce it. Turkey is a large country bigger than Texas, with a population of over seventy million and the name means nothing to me. I start to thank her, ready to ring off, when she says: I dont know if it helps, but it says here that one of the main towns is a place on the Aegean coast. Its called Bodrum. The word sends a jolt through my body, a frisson of fear that has been barely dissipated by the passage of so many years. Bodrum, she says and the name washes ashore like the debris from some distant shipwreck. Really? I say calmly, fighting a tumult of thoughts. Then the part of my brain dealing with the present reminds me Im only a guest on this investigation, and relief floods in. I dont want anything to do with that part of the world again. I make my way back to Room 89. Bradley sees me, and I tell him I figure that the piece of paper is the first part of a phone number all right, but Id forget about Canada. I explain about the calendar and he says hed seen it earlier in the evening and it had worried him too. Bodrum? Wheres Bodrum? he asks. You need to get out more. In Turkey one of the most fashionable summer destinations in the world. What about Coney Island? he asks, straight-faced. A close call, I tell him, picturing the harbour packed with extravagant yachts, the elegant villas, a tiny mosque nestled in the hills, caf?s with names like Mezzaluna and Oxygen, awash with hormones and ten-dollar cappuccinos. Youve been there? Bradley asks. I shake my head there are some things the government wont let me talk about. No, I lie. Why would she be calling someone in Bodrum? I wonder aloud, changing the subject. Bradley shrugs, unwilling to speculate, preoccupied. The big guys done some good work too, he reports, pointing at Petersen on the other side of the room. It wasnt a student ID Alvarez found in the managers file fake name, of course it was a New York library card. Oh good, I say, without much interest. An intellectual. Not really, he replies. According to their database, she only borrowed one book in a year. He pauses, looks at me hard. Yours. I stare back at him, robbed of words. No wonder he was preoccupied. She read my book? I manage to say finally. Not just read it studied it, Id say, he answers. Like you said you hadnt seen many as professional as this. Now we know why: the missing teeth, the antiseptic spray its all in your book, isnt it? My head tilts back as the full weight of it hits me. She took stuff from different cases, used it as a manual how to kill someone, how to cover it up. Exactly, Ben Bradley says, and, for one of the few times ever, he smiles. I just want to say thanks now Ive got to chase you-by-proxy, the best in the world. Chapter Five IF YOU WANT to know the truth, my book about investigative technique was pretty obscure the sort of thing, as far as I could tell, that defied all publishing theory: once most people put it down, they couldnt pick it up again. Yet, among the small cadre of professionals at whom it was aimed, it caused a seismic shock. The material went out on the edge of technology, of science, of credibility even. But on closer examination, not even the most hardened sceptics could maintain their doubts every case I cited included those tiny details, that strange patina of circumstance and motivation that allows good investigators to separate the genuine from the fake. A day after the books release a flurry of questions began ricocheting around the closed world of top-flight investigators. How the hell was it that nobody had heard of any of these cases? They were like communiqu?s from another planet, only the names changed to protect the guilty. And, even more importantly, who the hell had written it? I had no intention of ever letting anyone find out. Due to my former work, I had more enemies than I cared to think about and I didnt want to start my car engine one morning and end up as a handful of cosmic dust running rings around the moon. If any reader of the book was to inquire about the background of the so-called author, all they would find was a man who had died recently in Chicago. One thing was certain, I didnt write it for fame or money. I told myself I did it because I had solved crimes committed by people working at the outer limits of human ingenuity and I thought other investigators might find some of the techniques I had pioneered useful. And that was true up to a point. On a deeper level, Im still young hopefully, with another, real, life in front of me and I think the book was a summing-up, a way of bidding a final farewell to my former existence. For almost a decade I was a member of our countrys most secret intelligence organization, which worked so deep in shadow that only a handful of people even knew of our existence. The agencys task was to police our countrys intelligence community, to act as the covert worlds internal affairs department. To that extent, you might say, we were a throwback to the Middle Ages. We were the rat-catchers. Although the number of people employed by the twenty-six publicly acknowledged and eight unnamed US intelligence organizations is classified, it is reasonable to say that over one hundred thousand people came within our orbit. A population of that size meant the crimes we investigated ran the gamut from treason to corruption, murder to rape, drug dealing to theft. The only difference was that some of the perpetrators were the best and brightest in the world. The group entrusted with this elite and highly classified mission was established by Jack Kennedy in the early months of his administration. After a particularly lurid scandal at the CIA the details of which still remain secret he apparently decided members of the intelligence community were as subject to human frailty as the population in general. More so, probably. In normal circumstances, the FBI would have acted as the shadow worlds investigator-at-large. Under the perfumed fist of J. Edgar Hoover, however, that agency was anything but normal. Giving him the power to investigate the spooks would have been well, you might as well have let Saddam loose in the arms factory. For this reason, Kennedy and his brother created an agency that was given, by virtue of its responsibilities, unprecedented power. Established by an executive order, it also became one of only three agencies to report directly to the president without congressional oversight. Dont bother asking about the other two both of them are also forbidden by law from being named. In the rarefied atmosphere where those with the highest security clearances reside, people at first disparaged the new agency and its hard-charging mission. Delighted by their cleverness, they started calling it the 11th Airborne Division the cavalry, in other words. Few of them expected it to be successful but, as the agencys impressive reputation grew, they didnt find it quite so funny. As if by common agreement, one part of the name gradually faded, until the entire intelligence community referred to it in a tone of reverence simply as The Division. Its not vanity when I say that many of those who worked for it were brilliant. They had to be some of The Divisions targets were the most highly skilled covert operators the shadow world has ever seen. Years of training had taught these men and women how to lie and deflect, to say goodbye and leave not a trace behind, to have their hand in anything and their fingerprints on nothing. The result was that those who hunted them had to have even greater skills. The pressure for the catchers to keep one step ahead of the prey was enormous, almost unbearable at times, and it was no wonder that The Division had the highest suicide rate of any government agency outside of the Post Office. It was during my last year at Harvard that I was recruited into its elite ranks without even realizing it. One of the agencys outriders a pleasant woman with nice legs and a surprisingly short skirt who said she was a vice-president with the Rand Corporation came to Harvard and talked to promising young graduates. I had studied medicine for three years, majoring in the pharmacology of drugs and I mean majoring. By day I learned about them in theory; on weekends I took a far more hands-on approach. It was while visiting a doctor in Boston, having read up on the symptoms of fibromyalgia and convincing him to write me a prescription for Vicodin, that I had an epiphany. Say it was real, say right now it was me behind that desk dealing with the ailments real and imagined of the patients I had been quietly observing in the waiting room. I realized it wasnt what afflicted people that interested me, it was what motivated them. I dropped out of medicine, enrolled in psychology, graduated magna cum laude and was close to completing my doctorate. As soon as it was finished, the lady in the short skirt was offering twice the starting salary of any other employer and what appeared to be almost limitless opportunities for research and advancement. As a result, I spent six months writing reports that would never be read, designing questionnaires never to be answered, before I discovered I wasnt really working for Rand at all. I was being observed, auditioned, assessed and checked. Suddenly, Short Skirt wasnt anywhere to be found. Instead, two men hard men I had never seen before, or since, took me to a secure room in a nondescript building on an industrial estate just north of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. They made me sign a series of forms forbidding any kind of disclosure before telling me that I was being considered for a position in a clandestine intelligence service which they refused to name. I stared at them, asking myself why they would have thought of me. But if I was honest, I knew the answer. I was a perfect candidate for the secret world. I was smart, I had always been a loner and I was damaged deep in my soul. My father walked out before I was born and was never seen again. Several years later, my mother was murdered in her bedroom in our apartment just off 8-Mile Road in Detroit. Like I said, there are some places I will remember all my life. An only child, I finally washed up with adoptive parents in Greenwich, Connecticut twenty acres of manicured lawns, the best schools money could buy, the quietest house youve ever known. Their family seemingly complete, I guess Bill and Grace Murdoch tried their best, but I could never be the son they wanted. A child without parents learns to survive; they work out early to mask what they feel and, if the pain proves beyond bearing, to dig a cave in their head and hide inside. To the world at large I tried to be what I thought Bill and Grace wanted, and ended up being a stranger to them both. Sitting in that room outside Langley, I realized that taking on another identity, masking so much of who you are and what you feel, was ideal training for the secret world. In the years that followed the ones I spent secretly travelling the world under a score of different names I have to say the best spooks I ever met had learned to live a double life long before they joined any agency. They included closeted men in a homophobic world, secret adulterers with wives in the suburbs, gamblers and addicts, alcoholics and perverts. Whatever their burden, they were all long-practised at making the world believe in an illusion of themselves. It was only a small step to put on another disguise and serve their government. I guess the two hard men sensed something of that in me. Finally they got to the part of their questioning that dealt with illegality. Tell us about drugs, they said. I remembered what somebody once said about Bill Clinton he never met a woman he didnt like. I figured it wouldnt be helpful to tell them I felt the same way about drugs. I denied even a passing knowledge, thankful I had never adopted the reckless lifestyle that usually accompanies their use. Id made it a secret life and kept it hidden by following my own rules I only ever got fucked up alone, I didnt try and score at bars or clubs, I figured party drugs were for amateurs, and the idea of driving around an open-air drug market sounded like a recipe to get shot. It worked I had never been arrested or questioned about it and so, having already successfully lived one secret life, it now gave me the confidence to embrace another. When they stood up and wanted to know how long I would need to consider their offer, I simply asked for a pen. So that was the way of it I signed their Memorandum of Engagement in a windowless room on a bleak industrial estate and joined the secret world. If I gave any thought to the cost it would exact, the ordinary things I would never experience or share, I certainly dont recall it. Chapter Six AFTER FOUR YEARS of training of learning to read tiny signs others might miss, to live in situations where others would die I rose quickly through the ranks. My initial overseas posting was to Berlin and, within six months of my arrival, I had killed a man for the first time. Ever since The Division was established, its operations in Europe had been under the command of one of its most senior agents, based in London. The first person to hold the post had been a high-ranking navy officer, a man steeped in the history of naval warfare. As a result, he took to calling himself the Admiral of the Blue, the person who had once been third in command of the fleet: his exact position within The Division. The name stuck but over the decades it got changed and corrupted, until finally he became known as the Rider of the Blue. By the time I arrived in Europe, the then-occupant of the office was running a highly regarded operation and there seemed little doubt he would one day return to Washington and assume The Divisions top post. Those who did well in his eyes would inevitably be swept higher in the slipstream, and there was intense competition to win his approval. It was against this background that the Berlin office sent me to Moscow early one August the worst of months in that hot and desperate city to investigate claims of financial fraud in a US clandestine service operating there. Sure the money was missing, but as I dug deeper what I uncovered was far worse a senior US intelligence officer had travelled especially to Moscow and was about to sell the names of our most valuable Russian informers back to the FSB, the successor both in function and brutality to the KGB. As Id come very late to this particular party, I had to make an instant decision no time to seek advice, no second guessing. I caught up with our officer when he was on his way to meet his Russian contact. And yes, that was the first man I ever killed. I shot him I shot the Rider of the Blue dead in Red Square, a vicious wind howling out of the steppes, hot, carrying with it the smell of Asia and the stench of betrayal. I dont know if this is anything to be proud of but, even though I was young and inexperienced, I killed my boss like a professional. I shadowed him to the southern edge of the square, where a childrens carousel was turning. I figured the blaring sound of its recorded music would help mask the flat retort of a pistol shot. I came in at him from an angle this man I knew well, and he saw me only at the last moment. A look of puzzlement crossed his face, almost instantly giving way to fear. Eddy he said. My real name wasnt Eddy but, like everybody else in the agency, I had changed my identity when I first went out into the field. I think it made it easier, as if it werent really me who was doing it. Something wrong what are you doing here? He was from the south, and Id always liked his accent. I just shook my head. Vyshaya mera, I said. It was an old KGB expression we both knew that literally meant the highest level of punishment a euphemism for putting a large-calibre bullet through the back of someones head. I already had my hand on the gun in my hip pocket a slimline PSM 5.45; ironically, a Soviet design, especially made to be little thicker than a cigarette lighter. It meant you could carry it with barely a wrinkle in the jacket of a well-cut suit. I saw his panicky eyes slide to the kids riding the carousel, probably thinking about his own two little ones, wondering how it ever got this crazy. Without taking the gun out of my pocket, I pulled the trigger firing a steel-core bullet able to penetrate the thirty layers of Kevlar and half an inch of titanium plate in the bulletproof vest I assumed he was wearing. Nobody heard a sound above the racket of the carousel. The bullet plunged into his chest, the muzzle velocity so high it immediately sent his heart into shock, killing him instantly just like it was designed to do. I put my arm out, catching him as he fell, using my hand to wipe the sweat from his forehead, acting as if my companion had just passed out from the heat. I half carried him to a plastic seat under a flapping, unused sunshade, speaking in halting Russian to the clutch of mothers waiting ten yards away for their children, pointing at the sky, complaining about the weather. They smiled, secretly pleased to have it confirmed once again that the Slavs were strong and the Americans weak: Ah, the heat terrible, yes, they said sympathetically. I took off the Riders jacket and put it on his lap to hide the reddening hole. I called to the mothers again, telling them I was leaving him momentarily while I went for a cab. They nodded, more interested in their kids on the carousel than in what I was doing. I doubt any of them even realized I was carrying his briefcase let alone his wallet as I hurried towards the taxis on Kremlevskiy Prospekt. I was already entering my hotel room several miles away before anyone noticed the blood trickling from the corner of his mouth and called the cops. I hadnt had the chance to empty all his pockets, so I knew it wouldnt be long before they identified him. On visits to London Id had dinner at his home and played with his kids two girls who were in their early years at school many times, and I counted down the minutes to when I guessed the phone would ring at his house in Hampstead and theyd get the news their father was dead. Thanks to my own childhood, I had a better idea than most how that event would unfold for a child the wave of disbelief, the struggle to understand the finality of death, the flood of panic, the yawning chasm of abandonment. No matter how hard I tried, I couldnt stop the scene from playing out in my head the visuals were of them, but Im afraid the emotion was mine. At last I sat on the bed and broke the lock on his briefcase. The only thing of interest I found was a music DVD with Shania Twain on the cover. I put it in the drive of my laptop and ran it through an algorithm program. Hidden in the digitized music were the names and classified files of nineteen Russians who were passing secrets to us. Vyshaya mera to them if the Rider had made the drop. As I worked through the files, looking at the personal data in the nineteen files, I started to keep a tally of the names of all the Russian kids I encountered. I hadnt meant to, but I realized I was drawing up a sort of profit-and-loss account. By the end there were fourteen Russian children in one column, the Riders two daughters in the other. You could say it had been a good exchange by any reckoning. But it wasnt enough: the names of the Russians were too abstract and the Riders children far too real. I picked up my coat, swung my overnight bag on to my shoulder, pocketed the PSM 5.45 and headed to a playground near Gorky Park. I knew from the files that some of the wives of our Russian assets often took their kids there in the afternoon. I sat on a bench and, from the descriptions I had read, I identified nine of the women for sure, their children building sandcastles on a make-believe beach. I walked forward and stared at them I doubt they even noticed the stranger with a burn hole in his jacket looking through the railing these smiling kids whose summers I hoped would now last longer than mine ever did. And while I had managed to make them real, I couldnt help thinking that, in the measure of what I had given to them, by equal measure I had lost part of myself. Call it my innocence. Feeling older but somehow calmer, I walked towards a row of taxis. Several hours earlier as I had hurried towards my hotel room after killing the Rider I had made an encrypted call to Washington, and I knew that a CIA plane, flying undercover as a General Motors executive jet, was en route to the citys Sheremetyevo airport to extract me. Worried that the Russian cops had already identified me as the killer, the ride to the airport was one of the longest journeys of my life, and it was with overwhelming relief that I stepped on board the jet. My elation lasted about twelve seconds. Inside were four armed men who declined to reveal who they were but had the look of some Special Forces unit. They handed me a legal document and I learned I was now the subject of the intelligence communitys highest inquiry a Critical Incident Investigation into the killing. The leader of the group told me we were flying to America. He then read me my rights and placed me under arrest. Chapter Seven MY BEST GUESS was Montana. As I looked out the window of the jet there was something in the cut of the hills that made me almost certain we were in the north-west. There was nothing else to distinguish the place just an airstrip so secret it consisted of a huddle of unmarked bunkers, a dozen underground hangars and miles of electrified fence. We had flown through the night, and by the time we landed just after dawn I was in a bad frame of mind. Id had plenty of opportunity to turn things over in my head and the doubts had grown with each passing mile. What if the Shania Twain DVD was a fake, or somebody had planted it on the Rider? Maybe he was running a sting operation I didnt know about or another agency was using him to give the enemy a raft of disinformation. And what about this? Perhaps the investigators would claim it was my DVD and the Rider had unmasked me as the traitor. That explained why I had to shoot him dead with no consultation. I was slipping even further into the labyrinth of doubt as the Special Ops guys bustled me off the plane and into an SUV with blackened windows. The doors locked automatically and I saw the handles inside had been removed. It had been five years since I had first joined the secret world and now, after three frantic days in Moscow, everything was on the line. For two hours we drove without leaving the confines of the electrified fence, coming to a stop at last at a lonely ranch house surrounded by a parched lawn. Restricted to two small rooms and forbidden any contact except with my interrogators, I knew that in another wing of the house a dozen forensic teams would be going through my life with a fine-toothed comb the Riders too trying to find the footprints of the truth. I also knew how theyd interview me but no amount of practice sessions during training can prepare you for the reality of being worked over by hostile interrogators. Four teams worked in shifts, and I say it without editorial comment, purely as a matter of record: the women were the worst or the best depending on your point of view. The shapeliest of them appeared to think that by leaving the top of her shirt undone and leaning forward she would somehow get closer to the truth. Wonderbra, I called her. It would be the same sort of method used, years later, with great effect on the Muslim detainees at Guantanamo Bay. I understood the theory it was a reminder of the world you hungered for, the world of pleasure, far removed from the place of constant anxiety. All you had to do was cooperate. And let me just say, it works. Hammered about details night and day as they search for any discrepancy, youre tired weary to the bone. Two weeks of it and youre longing for another world any world. Late one night, after twelve hours without pause, I asked Wonderbra: You figure I planned it all and I shot him on the edge of Red Square? Red Square? Why would I do that? Stupid, I guess, she said evenly. Where did they recruit you Hooters?! I yelled. For the first time, Id raised my voice: it was a mistake; now the team of analysts and psychologists watching via the hidden cameras would know they were getting to me. Instantly I hoped she would return service, but she was a professional she kept her voice calm, just leaned even further forward, the few buttons on her shirt straining: Theyre natural and its no credit to the bra in case youre wondering. What song was the carousel playing? I forced the anger to walk away. Ive already told you. Tell us again. Smells Like Teen Spirit. Im serious, this is modern Russia; nothing makes sense. Youd heard it before? she said. Of course Id heard it before, its Nirvana. In the square, I mean, when you scouted locations? There was no scouting, because there was no plan, I told her quietly, a headache starting in my left temple. When they finally let me go to bed, I felt she was winning. No matter how innocent you are, thats a bad thing to think when youre in an isolated house, clinging to your freedom, as good as lost to the world. Early the next morning Wednesday by my figuring, but in fact a Saturday, thats how disoriented Id become the door to my sleeping area was unlocked and the handler hung a clean set of clothes on the back of it. He spoke for the first time and offered me a shower instead of the normal body wash in a basin in the corner. I knew this technique too make me think they were starting to believe me, encourage me to trust them but by this stage I was pretty well past caring about the psychology of it all. Like Freud might have said: sometimes a showers still a shower. The handler unlocked a door into an adjoining bathroom and left. It was a white room, clinical, ring bolts in the ceiling and walls that hinted at a far darker purpose, but I didnt care. I shaved, undressed and let the water flood down. As I was getting dry, I caught sight of myself naked in a full-length mirror and stopped it was strange, I hadnt really looked at myself for a long time. Id lost about twenty pounds in the three weeks or whatever it was I had been at the ranch and I couldnt remember ever seeing my face look more haggard. It made me appear a lot older, and I stared at it for a time, as if it were a window into the future. I wasnt ugly: I was tall and my hair was salted with blond thanks to the European summer. With the extra pounds stripped off my waist and butt thanks to the investigation, I was in good shape not with the six-pack-ab vanity of a movie star but with the fitness that came from practising forty minutes of Krav Maga every day. An Israeli system of self-defence it is, according to people who know, the most highly regarded form of unarmed combat among New York drug dealers north of 140th Street. I always figured if it was good enough for the professionals, it was good enough for me. One day, several years in the future alone and desperate it would save my life. As I stood close to the mirror, taking inventory of the man I saw before me, wondering if I really liked him that much, it occurred to me I might not be the only one watching. Wonderbra and her friends were probably on the other side of the glass, conducting their own appraisal. I may not be on top of anyones list for male lead in Deep Throat II, but I didnt have anything to be ashamed of. No, it wasnt that which made me angry it was the intrusion into every part of my life, the endless search for evidence that did not exist, the soul-destroying conviction that nobody could do something simply because they thought it was right. Krav Maga instructors will tell you that the mistake most people make when they fight is to punch someones head really hard. The first thing you break is your knuckles. For that reason, a real professional clenches his or her fist and uses the side of it like a hammer hitting an anvil. A blow like that from a reasonably fit person will deliver according to the instructors over four newtons of force at the point of impact. You can imagine what that does to someones face. Or to a mirror. It split into pieces and shattered on the floor. The most surprising thing was the wall behind it was bare. No two-way glass, nothing. I stared at it, wondering if I was the one that was cracking. Showered and shaved, I returned to the bedroom and, dressed in the clean clothes, I sat on the bed and waited. Nobody came. I went to bang on the door and found that it was unlocked. Oh, this was cute, I thought the trust quotient was going suborbital now. Either that or, in this particular episode of The Twilight Zone, I would find the house was empty and hadnt been lived in for years. I made my way to the living room. I had never been in it before but thats where I found the whole team, about forty of them, smiling at me. For an awful moment I thought they were going to clap. The team leader, a guy with a face made out of spare parts, said something I barely understood. Then Wonderbra was putting out her hand, saying it was just work, hoping there were no hard feelings. I was about to suggest she come upstairs, where Id visit on her acts of violence, some of them increasingly sexual in nature, but what the team leader said now made me stop I decided such thoughts were unworthy of someone who had received a handwritten letter from the President of the United States. It was lying on a table and I sat down to read it. Under the impressive blue-and-gold seal, it said that a complete and thorough investigation had cleared me of all wrongdoing. The president thanked me for what he called great courage above and beyond the call of duty. In hostile territory, far removed from help or safety, and facing the need for immediate action, you did not hesitate or give any thought to your personal welfare, he wrote. He said that while it was impossible for the public ever to know of my actions, both he personally and the country at large were deeply grateful for the service I had performed. Somewhere in it he also used the word hero. I walked to the door. I felt the assembled eyes on me, but I hardly noticed. I went out and stood on the lawn, looking across the bleak landscape. Cleared of all wrongdoing, the letter had said, and as I thought on that and the other word he had used, it unchained a host of emotions in me. I wondered what Bill and Grace would have thought: would they have found the pride in me I had so long denied them? I heard a cars tyres crunch up the long gravel drive and stop at the front of the house, but I ignored it. And what of the dead woman in Detroit, the one with the same startling blue eyes as mine? She had loved me, I was sure of that, but it was strange given that I hardly knew her. What would my mother feel if I could have told her? I kept standing there, shoulders hunched against the wind and the emotional debris swirling around me, until I heard a door open. I turned the team leader and Wonderbra were standing on the porch. With them was an elderly man, just arrived in the car, whom I had known for a long time. It doesnt matter what his name was by design, nobody has ever heard of him. He was the director of The Division. Slowly he came down the steps and stood with me. You read the letter? he asked. I nodded. He put his hand on my arm and exerted a tiny pressure his way of saying thank you. I guess he knew that any words of his would have little hope of competing with that blue-and-gold seal. He followed my gaze across the bleak landscape and spoke of the man I had killed. If you take the final betrayal out of it, he said, he was a fine agent one of the best. I stared at him. Thats one way of putting it, I replied. If you take the bomb out of it, 6 August was probably a nice day in Hiroshima. Jesus, Eddy! Im doing my best here, Im trying to find something positive he was a friend of mine. Mine too, Director, I said flatly. I know, I know, Eddy, he replied, restraining himself amazing what a letter from the president can do. Ive said a dozen times Im glad it was you, not me. Even when I was younger, I dont know if I could have done it. I didnt say anything: from what I had heard he would have taken a machine gun to Disneyland if he had thought it would have advanced his career. He turned his collar up against the wind and told me he wanted me to return to London. Ive checked with everyone who has to sign off. The decision was unanimous Im appointing you the new Rider of the Blue. I said nothing, just stared across the blighted fields for a long time, saddened beyond telling by the circumstances and those two little girls. I was twenty-nine years old and the youngest Rider of the Blue there had ever been. Chapter Eight LONDON HAD NEVER looked more beautiful than the night I flew in St Pauls Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament and all the other old citadels of power and grandeur standing like sculptures against a red and darkening sky. It was less than twenty hours since my promotion, and I had travelled without rest. I was wrong about the location of the ranch house it was in the Black Hills of South Dakota, even more remote than I had imagined. From there it was a two-hour drive to the nearest public airport, where a private jet had flown me to New York to connect with a British Airways transatlantic flight. A Ford SUV, three years old and splashed with dirt to make it look unremarkable, picked me up at Heathrow and took me into Mayfair. It was a Sunday night and there was little traffic, but even so progress was slow the vehicle was armour-plated and the extra weight made it a bitch to drive. The guy wrestling the wheel finally turned into a cul-de-sac near South Audley Street and the garage door of an elegant town house swung up. We drove into the underground garage of a building which, according to the brass plaque on the front door, was the European headquarters of the Balearic Islands Investment Trust. A sign underneath told the public that appointments could be made only by telephone. No number was given and, if anyone ever checked, London directory assistance had no listing for it. Needless to say, nobody ever called. I took the elevator from the basement to the top floor and entered what had always been the Rider of the Blues office a large expanse of polished wood floors and white sofas, but no windows or natural light. The building itself had a concrete core, and it was from this cell within a cell that I began trying to unravel my predecessors web of deceit. Late into that first night, I called secret phone numbers which telephone companies didnt even know they hosted, assembling a special team of cryptographers, analysts, archivists and field agents. Despite what governments might claim, not all wars are fought with embedded reporters or in the glare of 24-hour news cameras. The following day, the new Rider and his small group of partizans launched their own campaign across Europe, doing battle with what turned out to be the most serious penetration of the US intelligence community since the Cold War. We had some major successes but, even though, as time passed, enemy bodies started piling up like cord wood, I still couldnt sleep. One night, chasing down a stale lead in Prague, I walked for hours through the old city and forced myself to take stock of where we were. By my own standards, shorn of all complications, I had failed after twenty months unremitting work I still hadnt discovered the method by which the Russians were paying the agents of ours the traitors, in other words they had corrupted. The money trail remained as mysterious as ever and, unless we could track it successfully, we would never know how far the plumes of infection had spread. As a result, I resolved to throw everything we had at the problem but, in the end, none of that mattered: it was a shy forensic accountant and a dose of serendipity that came to our rescue. Ploughing one last time through the mountain of material seized from my predecessors London home before it vanished into The Divisions archives, the accountant found a handwritten grocery list stuck in the back of a chequebook. About to throw it away, he turned it over and saw it was written on the back of a blank FedEx consignment docket strange because none of our investigations had shown any evidence of a FedEx account. Intrigued, he called the company and discovered a list of pick-ups from the address, all of which had been paid for in cash. Only one turned out to be of interest a box of expensive Cuban cigars sent to the luxurious Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai. It quickly transpired that the name of the recipient on the FedEx docket was fake, and that would have been an end to the matter except for the moment of serendipity. A woman working with the accountant had once been a travel agent and she knew that all hotels in the United Arab Emirates are required to take a copy of every guests passport. I called the hotel under the guise of an FBI special agent attached to Interpol and convinced the manager to examine their files and give me the passport details of the guest who had been staying in suite 1608 on the relevant date. It turned out to be a person called Christos Nikolaides. It was an elegant name. Shame about the man. Chapter Nine EVERYONE AGREED ON one thing Christos would have been handsome if it werent for his height. The olive skin, wave of unruly dark hair and good teeth couldnt overcome legs that were far too short for his body. But money probably helped, especially with the women he liked to run with, and Christos Nikolaides certainly had plenty of that. A flurry of police database searches showed that he was the real deal: a genuine low-life with no convictions but a significant involvement in three murders and a host of other crimes of violence. Thirty-one years old and a Greek national, he was the eldest son of uneducated parents who lived outside Thessaloniki, in the north of the country. Its important to stress uneducated here, as opposed to stupid which they most certainly were not. In the following weeks, as we delved deeper into his life, the family became increasingly interesting. A close-knit clan of brothers, uncles and cousins, the family was headed by Christoss sixty-year-old father, Patros the familys ruthless enforcer. As they say in Athens, he had a thick jacket a long criminal record but this had been accompanied by great material success. An adjustment to the orbit of a US satellite monitoring the Balkans provided photos showing the familys compound in stunning detail. Set amid rolling acres of lavender, the complex of seven luxurious homes, swimming pools and lavish stables was surrounded by a twelve-foot wall patrolled by what we believed to be Albanians armed with Skorpion machine pistols. This was strange, given that the family was in the wholesale floristry business. Maybe flower theft was a bigger problem in northern Greece than most people realized. We theorized that, like Colombias Medell?n cartel before them, they had adapted the complex high-speed air and road network needed to transport a perishable product like flowers to include a far more profitable commodity. But what did a family of Greek drug dealers have to do with my predecessor, and why would he be sending the eldest son a box of cigars at a seven-star hotel in the Middle East? It was possible the former Rider had had a drug habit and Christos was his dealer, but it didnt make much sense: the Greeks were definitely on the wholesale side of the business. I was about to dismiss the whole investigation as another dead end maybe Christos and my predecessor were nothing more than friendly scumbags when, by good luck, I could not get to sleep on a grim London night. I looked across the rooftops from my apartment in Belgravia, thinking of how the two men probably ate together at one of the areas Michelin-starred restaurants, when I realized that the answer to our most difficult problem might be staring me in the face. What if the Russians werent responsible for paying our rogue agents at all? Say Christos Nikolaides and his family were responsible for making the payments. Why? Because they were running drugs into Moscow and that was the contribution they had to make to the cash-strapped Russians for the licence to do so. Call it a business tax. It meant the Greeks would be using their black cash and money-laundering skills to transfer funds from their own accounts into ones in the names of our traitors and the Russian intelligence agencies wouldnt show up anywhere near the process. Under such a scenario, somebody who had received a large payment the Rider of the Blue might send an expensive box of cigars to the man who had just paid him: Christos Nikolaides, on vacation in Dubai. I put all thoughts of sleep aside, went back into the office and launched an intense investigation with the help of the Greek government into the Nikolaides familys deeply subterranean financial arrangements. It was information discovered during this process that led me to Switzerland and the quiet streets of Geneva. Despite the citys reputation for cleanliness, thats a dirty little town if ever Ive seen one. Chapter Ten THE OFFICES OF the worlds most secretive private bank lie behind an anonymous limestone facade in the centre of Genevas Quartier des Banques. There is no name displayed, but Cl?ment Richeloud and Cie has occupied the same building for two hundred years, counting among its clients countless African despots, numerous corporate criminals and the rich descendants of a few prominent members of the Third Reich. Richelouds was also the Greek familys bankers and, as far as I could see, offered our only way forward. They would have to be persuaded to give us a list of the Nikolaides familys transactions over the last five years documents which would show if Christos was acting as the Russians paymaster and, if so, which Americans were on the payroll. Of course, we could make an application in court, but Richelouds would claim, correctly, that it was illegal to divulge any information because of the Swiss governments banking secrecy laws legislation which has made the nation a favourite with tyrants and criminals. It was for this reason that I contacted the bank as the Monaco-based lawyer for interests associated with the Paraguayan military and arrived on their marble doorstep prepared to discuss a range of highly confidential financial matters. Carrying an attach? case full of forged documents and the prospect of what seemed to be deposits worth hundreds of millions of dollars, I sat in a conference room full of faux antiques and waited for the banks managing partner. The meeting turned out to be one of the most memorable events of my professional life not because of Christos Nikolaides, but thanks to a lesson I learned. My education started with the opening of the oak-panelled door. It is fair to say a lot of my work has been a row through a sewer in a glass-bottomed boat, but even by those low standards Markus Bucher was memorable. Despite being a lay preacher at Genevas austere Calvinist cathedral, he was, like most of his profession, up to his armpits in blood and shit. Now in his fifties, you could say hed hit a home run a big estate in Cologny overlooking the lake, a Bentley in the garage but given that he had started on second base, it wasnt really much of an achievement: his family were the largest shareholders in the privately held bank. He made a big deal of the fact that the room we were in was soundproofed to American intelligence agency standards but failed to mention the hidden camera I had registered in the frame of a portrait on the wall. It was positioned to look over a clients shoulder and record any documents they might be holding. Just to be bloody-minded, I casually rearranged the chairs so that all the lens could see was the back of my briefcase. Amateurs, I thought. As Bucher worked his way through the forgeries, probably mentally tallying the management fees they could earn on such huge sums, I looked at my watch three minutes to one, almost lunchtime. Unfortunately for the Nikolaides family, they had overlooked one salient point as they funnelled more and more money into Richelouds Buchers only child had also entered the banking trade. Twenty-three and without much experience of men or the world, she was working in the more respectable end of the business for Credit Suisse in Hong Kong. I glanced at my watch again two minutes to one. I leaned forward and quietly told Bucher: I wouldnt know anybody in the Paraguayan military from a fucking hole in the ground. He looked at me, confused then he laughed, thinking this was an American version of humour. I assured him it wasnt. I gave him Christoss full name, what I believed to be his account number and said I wanted a copy of the banking records concerning him, his family and their associated companies for the last five years. In a dark corner of my mind I was hoping I was right about this, or there would be hell to pay but there was no going back now. Bucher got to his feet, righteous indignation swelling in his breast, blustering about people gaining entry by false pretences, that he had immediately recognized the documents as forgeries, how only an American would think that a Swiss banker would divulge such information, even if he had it. He came towards me and I realized I was being given the singular honour denied to so many dictators and mass murderers: I was going to be thrown out of a Swiss bank. It was one oclock. He paused, and I saw his eyes flick to his desk: his private cellphone, lying with his papers the number he believed known only to his close family was vibrating. I watched in silence as he stole a glance at the callers number. Deciding to deal with it later, he turned and bore down on me, wearing his outrage like body armour. Its eight oclock at night in Hong Kong, I said, without shifting in my chair, ready to break his arm if he tried to touch me. What?! he snapped back, not really comprehending. In Hong Kong, I said more slowly, its already late. I saw a flash of fear in his eyes as he grasped what I had said. He looked at me, questions flooding in he couldnt answer: how the hell did I know it was Hong Kong calling? He turned and grabbed the phone. I kept my eyes fixed on him as he heard that not only was I right about it being Hong Kong but that his daughter fighting to keep the panic out of her voice told him she was confronting a major problem. It may have been only lunchtime in Geneva, but for Markus Bucher, the day was growing darker by the second. It seemed that, two hours earlier, all communications within his daughters luxury high-rise had suffered a major failure phone, cable TV, Wi-Fi, high-speed DSL had all gone down. A dozen crews from Hong Kong Telecom had started trying to find the fault. One of these maintenance crews three men, all wearing regulation white boiler suits and necklace ID cards had found their way into Clare Buchers apartment. By the time she called her father she was of the view that they were not, perhaps, what they claimed to be. Her first piece of evidence was that two of them didnt seem to speak any Chinese at all in fact, they sounded like Americans. The second clue concerned communications equipment. Although she didnt know much about such things, she was pretty sure you didnt need a NATO-style 9mm Beretta pistol fitted with a silencer to fix a line fault. I watched her fathers face turn an unhealthy shade of grey as she explained her situation. He looked up at me with a mixture of pure hatred and desperation. Who are you? he said, so quiet as to be almost inaudible. From what Ive overheard, I said, Im the only person in the world who can help you. By good fortune, the head of Hong Kong Telecom owes me a favour lets just say I helped him bid for a successful phone contract in Paraguay. I thought at that moment he was going to hurl himself at me, so I got ready to hurt him badly if necessary, and kept talking. Im certain, in the right circumstances, I could call and ask him to have the technicians look elsewhere. Somehow Bucher managed to master himself. He looked at me, deeper now in the forest than he had ever thought possible, at a crossroads that would determine the rest of his life. I watched the battle rage on his face: he could no more abandon his daughter than he could violate everything he thought he stood for. He was paralysed, and I had to help him make the right decision. Like I mentioned, it was a terrible morning. If I could just say this if you decide not to cooperate and the technicians have to eliminate your daughter, I cant influence what they might do to her before-hand, if you understand. Its out of my power. I didnt like to use the word rape, not to a father. He said nothing then turned aside and vomited on the floor. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve and got shakily to his feet. Ill get the records, he said, lurching forward. People say love is weak, but theyre wrong: love is strong. In nearly everyone it trumps all other things patriotism and ambition, religion and upbringing. And of every kind of love the epic and the small, the noble and the base the one that a parent has for their child is the greatest of them all. That was the lesson I learned that day, and Ill be forever grateful I did. Some years later, deep in the ruins called the Theatre of Death, it salvaged everything. By the time I grabbed his arm, Bucher was already halfway to the door, willing to surrender anything, desperate to save his daughter. Stop! I told him. He turned to me, close to tears. You think Ill call the police, he shouted, with your technicians still in her apartment?! Of course not, I said. Youre not a fool. So let me get the records, for Chrissake! Whats to stop you giving me phoney ones or another clients? No, well go and look at the computer together. He shook his head, panicking. Impossible. Nobodys allowed in the back office the staff will realize. It was true except for one thing. Why do you think I chose one oclock, the Friday of a holiday weekend, I said. Everybodys at lunch. I picked up my bag, followed him out of the conference room and watched as he used an encrypted ID card to unlock a door into the inner offices. We sat at a terminal; he used a fingerprint scanner to open the system and keyed in the digits of an account number. There they were pages of Christos Nikolaides supposedly secret bank records, linked to a matrix of other family accounts. Within minutes, we were printing them all out. I stared at the pages for a long time the ledgers of so much corruption and death. The family were billionaires or close enough not to matter but the records also proved beyond doubt that Christos was the Russians paymaster. More than that, just as Id hoped, the documents also prised open the rest of the enterprise. Regular transfers into other accounts at the bank revealed the names of six of our people whom I would never have imagined were traitors. Two of them were FBI agents involved in counter-espionage and the other four were career diplomats at US embassies in Europe including a woman I had once slept with and for what they had done there was usually only one tariff. In a corner of my heart I hoped they would get good lawyers and manage to plea-bargain it down to life imprisonment. Dont believe what they tell you its a terrible thing to hold another persons life in the palm of your hand. So it was with less satisfaction than I had anticipated that I put the material in my briefcase and turned to Bucher. I told him that in two hours I would call the head of Hong Kong Telecom and have the technicians reassigned. I stood up and, under the circumstances, decided against offering him my hand. Without a word I walked out, leaving him alone vomit smearing his suit, one hand trembling, trying to decide if the palpitations he could feel in his chest were just nerves or something far more serious. I didnt know if the man would ever recover, and maybe I would have felt some sympathy for him except for a strange event which occurred in my childhood. Accompanied by Bill Murdoch, I had made a trip to a small French village called Rothau on the German border. Twenty years and countless adventures have passed but, in a way, part of me has never left that place or maybe I should say part of it has never left me. Chapter Eleven IF YOU EVER find yourself in the part of the world where france and Germany meet and want your heart broken, drive up the twisting road from the village, through the pine forests and into the foothills of the Vosges mountains. Sooner or later you will come to an isolated place called Natzweiler-Struthof. It was a Nazi concentration camp, almost forgotten now, never making it on to the misery-with-a-guidebook tours like Auschwitz and Dachau. You come out of the pine trees and at an intersection there is a simple country road sign: one way points to a local bar and the other to the gas chamber. No, Im not kidding. Tens of thousands of prisoners passed through the camps gates, but thats not the worst thing. The worst thing is hardly anybody has heard of it that amount of grief just isnt big enough to register on the Richter scale of the twentieth century. Another way of measuring progress, I suppose. I was twelve when I went there. It was summer vacation and, as usual, Bill and Grace had taken a suite at the Georges V hotel in Paris for most of August. They were both interested in art. She liked Old Masters that told people entering the house that this was a woman of wealth and taste. Bill, thank God, was out on the edge dancing on the edge half the time. He was never happier than when he was finding some new gallery or wandering around a young kids studio. Grace, completely disinterested, had long ago forbidden him to hang any of his purchases, and Bill would wink at me and say, Shes right whatever it is, you cant call it art. I call it charity some people give to the United Way, I support starving artists. But beneath all the jokes, he knew what he was doing. Years later, I realized what an expert eye he had, which was strange, given that he was completely untrained and his familys only interest had been chemicals. His mothers name before she married had been DuPont. The second week we were in Paris, Bill got a call from a guy in Strasbourg who said he had a sheaf of drawings by Robert Rauschenberg dating from when the great Pop artist was an unknown marine. The next day, Bill and I got on a plane with a bag packed for the weekend, leaving Grace to indulge her second great passion shopping at Herm?s. And so it was, once Bill had bought the drawings, that we found ourselves in Strasbourg on a Sunday with nothing to do. I thought we might go out to the Vosges mountains, he said. Graced probably say youre too young, but theres a place you should see sometimes life can seem difficult, and its important to keep things in perspective. Bill knew about Natzweiler-Struthof because of his father hed been a lieutenant colonel in the US Sixth Army that had campaigned across Europe. The colonel had arrived at the camp just after the SS abandoned it, and he was given the job of writing a report that found its way to the War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremburg. I dont know if Bill had ever read his fathers document, but he found the twisting road without any trouble and we pulled into the car park just before noon, a brilliant summers day. Slowly we walked into deaths house. The camp had been preserved as a French historic site because so many members of the Resistance had died there. Bill pointed out the old hotel outbuilding the Germans had converted into a gas chamber, and a crematorium packed with body-elevators and ovens. For one of the few times in my life, I held his hand. We passed the gallows used for public executions, the building where they had conducted medical experiments, and came to Prisoner Barracks Number One, which housed a museum. Inside among the prisoners old uniforms and diagrams of the concentration-camp system we got separated. In a quiet corner at the back, near a row of bunk beds where the surrounding ghosts seemed even more tangible, I found a photo displayed on a wall. Actually, there were a lot of photos of the Holocaust, but this was the one that has never left me. It was in black and white and it showed a short, stocky woman walking down a wide path between towering electrified fences. By the look of the light it was late in the afternoon, and in the language of those times she was dressed like a peasant. By chance there were no guards, no dogs, no watchtowers in the photo, though Im sure they were there just a lonely woman with a baby in her arms and her other two children holding tight to her skirt. Stoic, unwavering, supporting their tiny lives helping them as best as any mother could she walked them towards the gas chamber. You could almost hear the silence, smell the terror. I stared at it, both uplifted and devastated by the stark image of a family and a mothers endless love. A small voice inside, a childs voice, kept telling me something Ive never forgotten: I would have such as to have known her. Then a hand fell on my shoulder. It was Bill, come to find me. I could see from his eyes hed been crying. Overwhelmed, he indicated the piles of shoes and small items such as hairbrushes that the inmates had left behind. I didnt realize how powerful ordinary things can be, he said. Finally, we walked up a path inside the old electrified fence towards the exit gates. As we wound our way up, he asked me, Did you see the part about the gypsies? I shook my head: no. They lost even more in percentage terms than the Jews. I didnt know that, I said, trying to be grown up. Nor did I, he replied. They dont call it the Holocaust, the gypsies. In their language they have another name for it. They call it the Devouring. We walked the rest of the way to the car in silence and flew back to Paris that night. By some unspoken agreement, we never mentioned to Grace where we had been. I think we both knew she would never have understood. Months later, a couple of nights before Christmas, I walked down the stairs at the quiet house in Greenwich and was stopped by voices raised in anger. Five million dollars? Grace was saying incredulously. Still, you do what you like, I suppose its your money. Damn right it is, he agreed. The accountant says its going to an orphanage in Hungary, she said. Thats another thing I dont understand what do you know about Hungary? Not much. Apparently, its where a lot of gypsies came from; its a gypsy orphanage, he said, more or less evenly. She looked at him like he was crazy. Gypsies? Gypsies?! Then they turned and saw me watching from the doorway. Bills eyes met mine and he knew that I understood. Porrajmos, as the gypsies say in Romani the Devouring. After that Christmas, I enrolled at Caulfield Academy, a really phoney high school that took pride in providing every student with the means to lead a fulfilling life. Given the staggering fees, that aspect was probably already taken care of you had to have about six generations of blue chips behind you even to get in the gate. The second week I was there we were doing a course to improve our skills at public speaking only Caulfield Academy could dream up classes like that. The topic someone picked out of a hat was motherhood, and we spent thirty minutes listening to guys talk about what their moms had done for them, which was probably nothing, and funny stuff that happened at the villa in the South of France. Then I got called on, so I stood up, pretty nervous, and started telling them about pine trees in summer and the long road up into the mountains, and I tried to explain this photo Id seen and how I knew the mother loved her kids more than anything in the world, and there was this book Id read by somebody whose name I couldnt remember and he had this expression sorrow floats and thats what I felt about the photo, and I was trying to tie all this together when people started laughing and asking what I was smoking, and even the teacher, who was a young chick who thought she was sensitive but wasnt, told me to sit down and stop rambling on and maybe I should think twice before I ran for high elective office, and that made everybody laugh even louder. I never got up to speak in class after that, not in the five years I was at Caulfield, no matter what amount of trouble it caused. It made people say I was a loner, there was something dark about me, and I guess they were right. How many of them adopted the secret life or ended up killing half as many people as I did? Heres the strange thing, though through all that difficulty and the passage of twenty years, time hasnt dimmed my memory of that photo. It has only made it sharper it lies in wait for me just before I go to sleep and, try as I might, Ive never been able to get it out of my head. Chapter Twelve I WAS THINKING of it once again as I walked out of the front doors of Cl?ment Richeloud and Cie and into the Geneva sunshine. Sure, I could have felt some sympathy for Markus Bucher and his daughter, but I couldnt help remembering that it was Swiss bankers like Bucher and his family who had helped fund and support the Third Reich. I have no doubt the mother in the photo and millions of other families in cattle cars would have gladly traded the Buchers couple of hours of discomfort for what they eventually got. It was just like Bill had said all those years ago: its important to keep things in perspective. Thinking about the dark history that clung to so much of Genevas hidden wealth, I walked to the rue du Rh?ne, turned right, stopped near the entrance to the Old Town and made an encrypted call on my cellphone to a Greek island. The bank ledgers in the briefcase which was now handcuffed to my wrist were Christos Nikolaides death warrant, and in the world in which I dwelt there were no appeals and no last-minute stays of execution. As it turned out, killing him wasnt a mistake but the way I did it certainly was. There were five assassins three men and two women waiting for my call on Santorini. With its azure harbour, achingly white houses rimming the cliffs and donkeys shuttling visitors up to jewel-box boutiques, it is the most beautiful of all the Greek islands. Dressed in chinos and capri pants, the team was invisible among the thousands of tourists who visit the island every day. The weapons were in their camera cases. Months before, as the mysterious Nikolaides family had moved ever more clearly into our sights, we had taken an interest in a former ice-breaker called the Arctic N. Registered in Liberia, the 300-foot boat, capable of withstanding just about any kind of attack, had been converted at huge expense into a luxury cruiser complete with a helicopter pad and an on-board garage for a Ferrari. Supposedly fitted out for the super-elite Mediterranean charter business, the weird thing was that it only ever had one client Christos Nikolaides and his entourage of babes, hangers-on, business associates and bodyguards. All through summer we kept tabs on the boat by satellite, and while we were in Grozny and Bucharest chasing traitors and drug dealers, we watched the endless party glide from St Tropez down to Capri until finally it pulled in to the hollowed-out volcano that forms the harbour at Santorini. And there the vessel stayed Nikolaides and his guests relocating every day from the boats huge sun deck up to the towns restaurants and nightclubs and back down again. Meanwhile, half a continent away, I waited on a street corner in Geneva for a phone to be answered. When it did, I said three words to a man sitting in a clifftop caf?. That you, Reno? I asked. Wrong number, he said, and hung up. Jean Reno was the name of the actor who played the assassin in the movie L?on, and the team leader sitting in the caf? knew it meant death. He nodded to his colleague, who immediately called the other three agents, who were sitting among milling tourists at other caf?s. The five of them rendezvoused just near the beautiful Rastoni bar and restaurant, looking for all the world like a group of affluent European holidaymakers meeting up for lunch. The two women in the squad were the primary shooters, and that, Im afraid, was my mistake. It was just before two, the restaurant still crowded, when my so-called holidaymakers walked in. The three men spoke to the harried manager about a table while the women moved to the bar, ostensibly to check their make-up in its mirror but in fact noting in the reflection the position of every person in the vaulted space. Christos and his posse three Albanian bodyguards and a clutch of chicks his mother had probably warned him about were sitting at a table looking straight out at the harbour. All set? one of our women asked her male colleagues in passable Italian, framing it as a question but meaning it as a statement. The men nodded. The women had their tote bags open, putting away their lipstick, reaching for their camera cases. They both pulled out stainless-steel SIG P232s and turned in a tight arc. Christoss bodyguards, with their True Religion jeans, muscle-man T-shirts and Czech machine pistols, didnt have a chance against real professionals. Two of them didnt even see it coming the first they heard was the sound of bone breaking as bullets slammed into their heads and chests. The third bodyguard made it to his feet, a strategy which succeeded only in presenting himself as a bigger target for the team leader. Shows how much he knew. The agent hit him with three bullets, which was unnecessary, as the first one pretty much blasted his heart out the back of his chest. As is usual in these situations, a lot of people started yelling, to absolutely no effect. One of them was Christos, trying to take command, I guess, scrambling to his feet, reaching under his flapping linen shirt for the Beretta he kept in the waistband of his pants. Like a lot of tough guys who dont do any real training, he thought he was well prepared by keeping the safety catch off. In the panic of a genuine firefight, he pulled the weapon out, put his finger on the trigger and shot himself through the leg. Fighting the pain and humiliation, he kept turning to face his attackers. What he saw were two middle-aged women, feet planted wide, who had there been a band looked like they were about to start a strange dance. Instead, they both opened up at seven yards, two rounds each. Most of Christoss vital organs including his brain were finished before he dropped. Immediately, the five agents sprayed their weapons across the mirrors, creating a lot of impressive noise and maximum panic. Terrified diners sprinted for the doors, a Japanese tourist tried to film it on his phone and a ricocheting bullet hit a female member of Christoss party in the butt. As one of our women agents told me later given the way the chick was dressed, the last time she had that much pain up her ass she was probably getting paid for it. The flesh wound was the only collateral damage no small achievement given the number of people in the restaurant and the unpredictable nature of any assassination. The agents pocketed their weapons, burst out of the front door amid the exploding panic and yelled for someone to call the cops. At a prearranged location a tiny cobblestone square they regrouped and boarded four Vespa scooters, permitted for residents only but secured earlier in the day by a large payment to a local repair shop. The team sped into the towns narrow alleys and the leader used his cellphone to call in two fast boats waiting in the next bay. In three minutes, the assassins reached a scenic cable car that offers an alternative and far quicker descent than the donkeys. It takes less than two minutes to take the 1,200-foot drop, and already the boats were pulling into the wharf. The team was halfway to the next island, hurtling across the sparkling blue water in a plume of white spray, by the time the first cops arrived at Rastoni. To the Greek cops ribald amusement, they quickly learned that Christos, the first-born and best-loved son of Patros Nikolaides, had been gunned down by two ladies in capri pants and Chanel sunglasses. And that was my mistake not the killing of him, the women. I genuinely hadnt given it a thought, I just sent the best people for the job, but, as I have to keep relearning, its the unquestioned assumptions that get you every time. In the villages of northern Greece, where decisions are taken only in the councils of men, that somebody had assigned women to do the killing was worse in a way than the death itself. It was an insult. For the old man, it was as if the killers were telling him that Christos was such a no-account castrato he wasnt even worth a matador. Maybe Patros, the ruthless enforcer and father, would have ridden out of his compound for vengeance anyway, but when he learned the circumstances, for his dignity as a man, for his honour forget that, given his past, he had none of these things he believed he had no choice. The woman agent was wrong about the other casualty too: despite the spandex, she wasnt rented ass at all. She was Christoss younger sister. As I would learn later, for one of the few times in her adult life she was relatively clean and sober in Rastoni. While the other patrons raced for the exits, she scrambled across the shattered glass, bending over her brother, trying to talk him into not dying. Realizing it was failing, she grabbed her cellphone and made a call. Despite all her years of relentless sex, it was to the only real man in her life her father. As a result, Patros and his phalanx of Albanians heard before I did exactly what my people had wrought that afternoon. I hadnt moved from my corner near the Old Town when I got a call ten minutes after he did. It was a text message giving me the price of a L?on DVD on Amazon it meant Christos was dead, the team was safe on board the boats, there was no sign of pursuit. I put the phone away and looked at my watch. Eighteen minutes had passed since I had made the call initiating the whole event. In the interim, Id phoned through orders deploying smaller teams to arrest the other six named collaborators, and now the events that started several years ago in Red Square were finally drawing to a close. I suppose I could have taken a moment for quiet congratulation, allowed myself some small feeling of triumph, but Im prone to self-doubt always doubting, Im afraid. As I adjusted my briefcase an anonymous young businessman stepping out of the shadows and into the faceless foreign crowd it was a dead British orator and writer who was on my mind. Edmund Burke said the problem with war is that it usually consumes the very things that youre fighting for justice, decency, humanity and I couldnt help but think of how many times I had violated our nations deepest values in order to protect them. Lost in thought, I headed for the small bridge that crossed the river. It is eight hundred paces from the edge of the Old Town to the hotel in which I was staying. Eight hundred paces, about four minutes in terms of history, not even the blink of an eye, really and yet in that moment all our souls were turning in a few madmens hands. Chapter Thirteen THE HOTEL DU Rh?ne was deserted when I walked in. the doormen had gone, the concierge wasnt at his post and the front desk was unattended. More disturbing was the silence. I called out, and when nobody answered I made my way to the bar at one side of the lobby. The staff were all there, standing with the patrons, watching a TV screen. It was a few minutes before 3 p.m. in Geneva, 9 a.m. in New York. The date was September the eleventh. The first plane had just hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, and already the footage was being replayed over and over again. A couple of news anchors started speculating that it might be anti-US terrorists, and this theory was met with cheering from several Swiss idiots at the bar. They were speaking French, but my summers in Paris meant I was fluent enough to understand they were praising the courage and ingenuity of whoever was responsible. I thought of the people at home in New York watching the same footage as us, knowing that their loved ones were somewhere in the burning building and desperately praying that, somehow, they would make it out. Maybe there are worse things than watching your family die on live television, but if there were I couldnt think of any at that moment. I had a gun in my pocket all ceramic and plastic, designed to beat metal detectors like the ones at Buchers office and I was angry enough to consider using it. As I fought back my emotions, United Airlines flight 175 out of Boston hit the south tower. It sent everyone in the room, even the idiots, reeling. My memory is that after an initial scream the bar was silent, but that may not be true all I know is I had a terrible sense of worlds colliding, of the Great Republic shifting on its axis. Alone, far from home, I feared nothing would ever be the same again: for the first time in history, some unidentified enemy had taken lives on the continental United States. Not only that, they had destroyed an icon which in a way represented the nation itself ambitious, modern, always reaching higher. Nobody could say how deep the damage would run, but in the bar life was fractured into disjointed moments a phone ringing unanswered, a cigar burning to ash, the TV jumping between the immediate past and the terrifying present. And still people werent talking. Maybe even the idiots were wondering, like me, if there was more to come. Where would it end the White House, Three Mile Island? I left the gun in my pocket, pushed through the crowd that had gathered unnoticed behind me and went up in an empty elevator to my room. I put a call through to Washington, first on a conventional landline connected out of London and then via the Pine Gap satellite, but all communications on the East Coast of the United States were collapsing under the weight of traffic. Finally, I called an NSA relay station in Peru, gave them the Rider of the Blues priority code and got through to The Division on an emergency satellite network. I spoke to the Director on a connection so hollow it sounded like we were having a conversation in a toilet bowl and asked him to send a plane so I could get back, wanting to know how I could help. He said there was nothing I could do and, anyway, hed just heard from the National Security Council: all flights in and out of the country were about to be halted. I should sit tight; nobody knew where this damn thing was going. It wasnt so much what he said that scared me, it was the edge of panic in his voice. He said he had to go his building was being evacuated, and so was the White House. I put the phone down and turned on the TV. Anybody who was alive that terrible day knows what happened: people leaping hand in hand from God knows what height, the collapse of the two towers, the dust and apocalyptic scenes in Lower Manhattan. In houses, offices and war rooms across the world, people were seeing things they would never forget. Sorrow floats. And though I wouldnt discover it for a long time, watching the cops and firefighters rushing into what would become their concrete tomb, there was one person who saw in that whirlwind of chaos the opportunity of a lifetime. She was one of the smartest people I have ever encountered and, despite my many affairs with other substances, intelligence has always been my real drug. For that reason alone, I will never forget her. Whatever people may think of the morality, there was no doubt it took a kind of genius to start planning the perfect murder in the maelstrom of September the eleventh and then carry it out a long time later in a scummy little hotel called the Eastside Inn. While she was laying her dark plans, I spent the evening watching people jump until, by 10 p.m. in Geneva, the crisis itself was winding down. The president was flying back to Washington from a bunker at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, the fire at the Pentagon was under control and the first bridges into Manhattan were being reopened. At about the same time I got a call from an aide at the National Security Council who told me the government had intelligence pointing to a Saudi national, Osama bin Laden, and that attacks against his bases in Afghanistan, carried out under the guise of a group of rebels called the Northern Alliance, were already under way. Twenty minutes later I saw news reports of explosions in the Afghan capital of Kabul and I knew that the so-called war on terror had begun. Claustrophobic, depressed, I went for a walk. The war on terror sounded about as generic as the war on drugs, and I knew from personal experience how successful that had been. The streets of Geneva were deserted, the bars silent, the electric trams empty. I heard later it was the same in cities from Sydney to London, as if for a time the lights had dimmed in the Western world in sympathy with America. I made my way through what are called the English Gardens, skirted the clutch of Moroccan drug dealers lamenting among themselves the lack of business, thought for a moment of putting a bullet through them just for the hell of it, and walked along the lakeside promenade. Straight ahead lay the exclusive village of Cologny, where Fahd, the ruler of Saudi Arabia, the Aga Khan and half the crooks of the world had their homes. I sat on a bench at the edge of the lake and looked across the water at the United Nations on the other side brilliantly floodlit, totally useless. Below it, almost on the lakes edge, rose the grey bulk of the President Wilson hotel, commanding a perfect view of Lake Genevas most popular beach. Every summer, Saudis and other rich Arabs would pay a huge premium for rooms at the front so that they could watch women sunbathing topless on the grass. With well-stocked mini-bars, it was like an Arab version of an upmarket strip club without the inconvenience of tipping. Although it was late, the lights were on in most of the rooms now. I guessed they had realized what sort of shit was about to come down and were packing their binoculars and bags, getting ready for the first flight home. But no matter what Western revenge would be exacted on Osama bin Laden and Arabs in general, one thing was certain the events of the last twelve hours were an intelligence failure of historic proportions. The overriding mission of the hugely expensive United States intelligence community was to protect the homeland, and not since Pearl Harbor had these all-powerful organizations screwed up with such spectacular and public results. As I sat in the cool Geneva night I wasnt pointing the finger at others none of us was without blame. We all carried the blue badges, we all bore the responsibility. But so did the president and congressmen whom we served, those who established our budgets and priorities. Unlike us, at least they could speak out publicly, but I figured it would be a long wait before the American people got an apology from any of them the next millennium maybe. The wind was rising, sweeping out of the Alps and bringing with it the smell of rain. It was a long walk back to my hotel and I should have started then, but I didnt move. I was certain, even if nobody else was thinking it yet, that pretty soon Lower Manhattan wouldnt be the only thing in ruins the nations entire intelligence structure would be torn apart. It had to be if it was going to be rebuilt. Nothing in the secret world would ever be the same again, not least for The Division: people in government would no longer have any interest in secretly policing the covert world; they would only be interested in secretly policing the Islamic world. I had got up in the morning and, by the time I was ready for bed, it was a different planet: the world doesnt change in front of your eyes, it changes behind your back. I knew I had none of the language or operational skills necessary for the brave new intelligence world which was about to be born, so I found myself like Markus Bucher suddenly at a fork in the road. Unsure what future lay ahead of me, not necessarily seeking happiness, but fulfilment wouldnt be bad, I was lost. I had to ask myself what life I really wanted. Sitting alone with the storm rolling towards me, I looked back over the years and found, if not an answer, at least a way forward. Rising out of the past to meet me was a remote village called Khun Yuam, just on the Thai side of the Burma border. Looking back, I think the memory of it had waited for years in darkness, knowing its time would come. It is wild, lawless country up there not far from the Golden Triangle and when I was first starting out in this business I had only been in Berlin for a month I found myself washed up on its shore. Nothing distinguished Khun Yuam from the other hill-tribe villages, except that five clicks out in the jungle stood a series of grim cinder-block buildings surrounded by guard towers and an electric fence. Officially a relay post for the Global Positioning System, it was in fact a CIA black prison, part of a vehemently denied but real American gulag: remote facilities used to house prisoners who couldnt be legally tortured back home. One of the guards had died in-house and, while the Tokyo office normally would have handled it, they were so overwhelmed by yet another Chinese spy scandal that I found myself leaving Europe and flying into a place called Mae Hong Son the City of Three Mists on an old turbo-prop. Most of the time it was a short chopper ride out to the GPS station, but this was the monsoon season and they didnt call it the City of Three Mists for nothing. I rented a Toyota four-wheel drive from a guy who I guessed was a local opium baron and headed for Khun Yuam and its CIA prison. Passing through spectacular mountains, I came to an ancient cable ferry. It was the only way to cross a roaring river swollen by the monsoon a tributary of the mighty Mekong, the scene of so many secret operations and so much US misery during the Vietnam War. I got out of the car, gaunt and hollow-eyed; I had been travelling non-stop for thirty-two hours, fuelled by nothing more than ambition and anxiety about the mission. As I waited among a clutch of food vendors and villagers, watching a rusty cable drag the flat-bottomed ferry towards us in plumes of spray, a Buddhist monk in saffron robes asked if I wanted a cup of Masala-chai, the local tea. He spoke good English and, with nothing else on offer except the deadly Thai elephant beer, I gratefully accepted. The monk was heading upcountry too and given I was supposed to be a WHO expert surveying endemic diseases it was pretty hard to refuse his request for a ride. We crossed the river in the Toyota, the barge plunging and barely afloat, water blasting over the gunwales and two inches of rusted cable the only thing between us and one of the countrys highest waterfalls, half a click downstream. The worst white-knuckle ride of my life. As we drove out of the gorge, the jungle forming a canopy over our heads, the monk looked at me a little too long and asked about my work. Thanks to my medical training, I gave an excellent account of breakbone fever, but it soon became clear he didnt believe a word of what I was saying. Maybe he knew about the cinder-block camp at Khun Yuam. He had lived at an ashram not far from New York, so he had more knowledge than you would expect about American life and he spoke intelligently about recreational drugs and the pressures of modern life. I started to get the feeling it wasnt a casual conversation. You look hunted, he said finally, in that Buddhist way, more in sorrow than in judgement. Hunted? I laughed and told him it was the first time I had ever heard that: people usually put me on the other side of the food chain. There is no other side of the food chain, he said quietly. Only the West believes that. Without grace, everyone is running from something. Our eyes met. Smiling, I asked if hed ever considered pursuing a religious life. He laughed right back and wanted to know if I had heard how villagers caught monkeys. I told him I knew a few things about life, but that wasnt one of them. We didnt eat much monkey at Harvard generally only at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I said. So he told me how the villagers chain a ewer a vase with a narrow neck and a bulbous bottom to the base of a tree. They fill the bottom with nuts and whatever else monkeys like to eat. In the night, a monkey climbs out of the trees and slips his hand down the long neck. He grabs the sweets and his hand makes a fist. That means its too big to get back up the narrow neck, and hes trapped. In the morning the villagers come round and hit him on the head. He looked at me for a moment. Its a Zen story of course, he said, smiling again. The point is: if you want to be free, all you have to do is let go. Yes, I understood that much, I told him. It was a good story, but it didnt mean anything to me, not now, anyway. I suppose not, he replied, but perhaps I was put on the road to tell it to you. Youre young, Doctor maybe the time will come when it will mean something. And he was right, of course, the time did come, and in a different way from anything I could have imagined: it was sitting in the Geneva night waiting for a storm, thinking about mass murder in New York and women in short skirts recruiting even brighter young graduates for a new era. I was thirty-one years old and I realized, through no fault of my own, I had been trained for tank warfare in Europe, only to find the battle was with guerillas in Afghanistan. Like it or not, history had passed me by. On another level, far deeper, I knew that sooner or later I wanted to find something something its hard for me to put a name to a thing most people call love, I suppose. I wanted to walk along a beach with someone and not think about how far a sniper rifle can fire. I wanted to forget that you feel the bullet long before you hear the shot. I wanted to find somebody who could tell me what safe harbour really meant. I knew with all my heart that, if I didnt leave the secret world now, I never would. To turn your back on everything you know is hard, among the most difficult things youll ever do, but I kept telling myself one thing. If you want to be free, all you have to do is let go. Chapter Fourteen I WROTE OUT my resignation late that night in the hotel du Rh?ne, dispatched it by diplomatic courier the next morning and immediately flew to London. I spent the next three weeks wrapping up my outstanding cases and giving the files to the FBI: in the first of many huge changes to the US intelligence community, The Division had been closed down and its responsibilities assumed after four decades of trying by the Feds. Ironically, my last day on the job was in Berlin, the city where everything had really started for me. I locked the office for the final time and accompanied the staff out to Tempelhof for the flight home. I shook hands with them and, an agent to the end, said I was booked on a later plane. Instead I walked out of the front doors and, carrying a totally new identity, got a taxi to a car dealership, where I took delivery of a Cayenne turbo. With five hundred horsepower, I figured I was more or less ready for the autobahn. I threw my bags in the back, was past Frankfurt by evening and crossed the border in the early hours of the morning. Fall had come late that year and even by moonlight I dont think I had ever seen the French countryside looking more beautiful. I flew past villages with romantic names and found the p?age a tollway I was looking for. If you come into Paris from the south, theres a remarkable point between the towering high-rises in which the French warehouse their immigrants where the first sight of the city is almost completely hidden from you. The only thing you see is the Eiffel Tower standing on the horizon. It was early in the morning, a chill in the air lending a sparkling clarity to everything. I had seen the view many times before but, even so, it took my breath away. The sense of release that had been growing in me through the night finally broke its banks, and I pulled to the side of the road: to be in Paris when youre young and free well, theres not much on earth better than that. I rented an apartment in the part of the 8th arrondissement Parisians call the golden triangle, just off the beautiful rue Fran?ois 1er. Day after day, and late into the night, I wrote the book that few people would read except for one young woman in New York I would desperately wish hadnt. After six months, it was done hundreds of thousands of words, all annotated and checked. I felt the washing out of my earlier life was complete I had written the final chapter on that era and sent it downstream like a funeral barge into the past. I was proud of the book: call it a public service, call it naive if you want, but I thought if my expertise could help defeat just one man like Christos Nikolaides, then it was a candle worth the burning. After careful vetting by a team of analysts working for the Director of Intelligence, the book was published by a small house that specialized in harrowing memoirs about escapes from Castros Cuba and female honour killings among Arabs. In other words, it was a secret subsidiary of the CIA. Such a publisher was obviously accustomed to authors whose identities had to be concealed but, even so, my case was complicated: when I gave up my badge it was decided I knew enough about national security that nobody could ever know who I was or what job I had done. Without meaning to, the secret world took my identity and my history from me. When the book finally appeared, not only was Jude Garrett given as the authors name, but an entire identity had been created for him. Anybody who made inquiries received the following biography: Jude Garrett, a graduate of the University of Michigan, spent over fourteen years in law enforcement, first with the Sheriffs department in Miami and then as a special investigator with the FBI. He died while on assignment in Chicago. The manuscript of this book, which he had researched extensively, was found in his study shortly after his death and represents the last testament of one of the worlds finest investigators. And it was true some of it, anyway. There had been an FBI agent called Jude Garrett, and he was dead a car wreck on his way home from work. Unmarried, a loner with few interests outside work, the publishers simply appropriated his identity and gave him a literary accomplishment in death he had never found in life. I have to admit I liked his biography and I liked the fact he was dead. I mean, who would go looking for a dead man? Well, somebody did. With the book finally published, the funeral barge almost lost to view, I had started for the first time in my adult life to live in a world without secrets. I looked at all the laughing women, hips swinging, sashaying down the wide boulevards of Paris, and as spring became summer I started to believe anything was possible. The problem with the spy business, though, is that while you can resign you can never leave. I suppose I didnt want to acknowledge it then, but too much wreckage floats in the wake of a life like mine people youve hurt dont forget. And at the back of your mind is the one lesson they drummed into you when you were young and your whole career was ahead of you: in this business, you cant learn by your mistakes. You dont get a chance. Make one, and youre dead. The only thing that will save you is your intuition and your tradecraft. Burn them into your soul. I suppose I must have listened because, still only nine months into my retirement, I noted a cab with a passenger circling the block. Nobody does that in Paris. Given the chaotic traffic, it could take hours. It was just after eight, a busy Friday night, and I was at a sidewalk caf? on the place de la Madeleine waiting for an ageing doctor. He was a gourmand whose young Russian dates usually cost more for the night than the dinners he lavished on them, so he was always short of cash. To my mind, genteel poverty was a great advantage in a medical practitioner. It meant that when he was giving a diagnosis and writing a prescription he was prepared to listen to a patients own suggestions, if you catch my drift. I didnt mark the white taxi the first time it passed not consciously anyway but somewhere in all my tradecraft the ever-changing tangle of traffic must have been registering. The second time it went by I knew it had been there before. Heart spiking hard, I didnt react that was the training kicking in. I just let my eyes follow it as casually as I could, cursing that a combination of headlights and traffic prevented me from seeing clearly who was in the back. It didnt matter, I suppose I just think its nice to know the identity of the people whove come to kill you. The tide of vehicles carried the taxi away, and I knew I didnt have long: the first pass they locate you, the second they plan the angles, the third they fire. I dropped ten euro on the table and moved fast on to the sidewalk. I heard a voice behind, yelling it was the doctor, but I didnt have time to tell him we couldnt help feed each others habits tonight. I jagged left into H?diard, the citys best food store, and moved quickly past pyramids of perfect fruit and into the crowded wine section. Everything was unfolding in a rush like it always does in such situations and while I didnt have any evidence, my instinct was screaming that it was the Greeks. The old man not only had the financial clout but also the deep emotional motive to search for revenge the sort of incentive every missed Christmas and birthday would only have made stronger. He also had easy access to the personnel: crime intelligence reports from any police force in Europe would tell you that half of Albania was involved in the murder-for-hire business. From H?diards wine department, a door accessed a side street and I went through it without pause, turning left. It was a one-way street and I walked fast towards the oncoming traffic, the only strategy in the circumstances. At least you can see the shooter coming. Scanning the road ahead, I realized I was acting to a well-organized plan. I didnt know it until then but, wherever I went, part of me was always thinking about the best way out, an unseen escape programme constantly running in the background of my mind. My biggest regret was about my gun. A cup of coffee, a quick meeting with the doctor and a cab home half an hour maximum, I had figured. That meant the gun was in a safe back at the apartment. I had grown sloppy, I guess. Even if I saw them coming, there was little I could do now. Home was exactly where I was heading first thing, to open the damn safe and get myself weaponed up. I turned right, walked fast for a block, turned left and met the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honor? exactly where I wanted just down the road from the ?lys?e Palace. Whichever Greek or Albanian was in the taxi would know it was the safest street in Paris snipers on the rooftops, the whole length under constant anti-terrorist surveillance. Only now did I feel comfortable enough to grab a cab. I got the driver to stop hard against my buildings service entrance. By cracking open the door of the cab and staying low I could unlock the steel door and get inside without anybody seeing me. The driver thought I was crazy but then his religion thinks stoning a woman to death for adultery is reasonable, so I figured we were about even. Slamming the door behind me, I ran through the underground garages. The limestone building had once been a magnificent town house, built in the 1840s by the Comte du Crissier, but had fallen into ruin. The previous year it had been restored and turned into apartments, and I had rented one on the first floor. Even though it was small, normally someone in my situation would never have been able to afford it, but my material circumstances had changed Bill Murdoch had died three years ago while I was on a brief assignment in Italy. I wasnt invited to the funeral, and that hurt I just got a note from Grace telling me he had died suddenly and had already been buried. That was my adoptive mother for you jealous to the end. A few months later I got a letter from a lawyer saying Bills matrix of companies controlled by an offshore trust had been left to Grace. It wasnt unexpected they had been married for forty years. The letter said that, while there was no provision for me, Grace had decided to set aside enough money to provide me with an income of eighty thousand dollars a year for life. It didnt spell it out but the tone was clear: she believed it discharged all her responsibilities towards me. Two years after the arrangement almost to the day Grace herself died. I felt her earlier behaviour relieved me of any obligation and I didnt go back for the huge society funeral at Greenwichs old Episcopalian church. Again, and not for the first time, I was alone in the world, but I couldnt help smiling at what a difference two years can make: had the order of their deaths been reversed, I knew Bill would have made a substantial bequest to me. As it was, Grace left everything to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to rebuild the Old Masters gallery in her name. This information was conveyed in a letter from the same lawyer who also mentioned that there was a small matter concerning Bills estate that needed to be finalized. I told him Id see him at his office in New York when I was home next and then let it pretty much slip from my mind. The cheques from Graces bequest arrived regularly and it meant I could live a life far more comfortable than anything the government had ever envisaged with their pension. The most tangible benefit was the apartment in Paris, and I found myself racing through what had once been the mansions kitchen converted to a plant room and flying up a set of fire stairs towards my home. I opened a concealed door next to the elevator and burst into the small foyer. A woman was standing there. It was Mme Danuta Furer, my seventy-year-old neighbour, who lived in the mansions grandest apartment. The perfectly groomed widow of some aristocratic industrialist, she had the uncanny ability to make everyone else feel like a member of the Third World. She saw my tongue moistening my dry lips, shirt hanging out. Something wrong, Mr Campbell? she asked in her inscrutable upper-class French. She knew me as Peter Campbell, on sabbatical from my job as a hedge-fund manager the only job I knew of which would enable somebody my age to afford to live in the apartment and not work. Fine, Madame just worried I left the oven on, I lied. The elevator arrived, she got in and I unlocked the steel-core door into my apartment. Bolting it, not turning on any lights, I sprinted through the living room with its beautiful bay windows and small but growing collection of contemporary art. Bill would have liked that. In the gloom I ripped open a closet in the dressing room and keyed a code into a small floor safe. Inside was a large amount of cash, a pile of papers, eight passports in different names and three handguns. I pulled out a 9mm Glock fitted with an extended barrel the most accurate of them all checked the action and grabbed a spare clip. As I slipped it into my waistband, I dwelt on something that had been ricocheting round my head all the way home: if it was the Greeks, how the hell had they found me? One theory I could come up with was that the Russians had stumbled across something and passed it on to their former partners, just for old times sake, you know and a bucketload of untraceable cash. Or had I made some tiny mistake at Richelouds that Markus Bucher had passed on to his clients and which had allowed them eventually to discover who I was? But, in either case, what had led the Greeks to Paris? For Gods sake, I was living under a completely different identity. The knock on the door was firm and definite. I didnt react. I had always known that a hostile would have little difficulty getting into the building Fran?ois, the middle-aged, snivelling concierge, was always leaving the front doors open as he plumbed new depths of servitude. No sooner would he have heard Mme Furer coming down in the elevator than he was probably out in the street alerting the limo driver and fussing around to make sure he was registering ever more clearly on her Christmas gift list. Without hesitation I did exactly what the training says I moved fast, silently, into the back of the apartment. One strategy experienced assassins use is to attach a couple of ounces of Semtex a plastic explosive with the consistency of clay to the frame of a door before ringing the bell. The perpetrator takes cover in this case it would be in the elevator car and detonates it with a call from a cellphone. Eight ounces of Semtex brought down Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, so you can imagine what half that would do to a steel door and anybody looking through a peephole. I backed through the dining room, grabbed a jacket to cover the Glock and headed for the spare bedroom. When the building had been the Comte du Crissiers mansion his staff had used a hand-cranked elevator to send meals up from the kitchen to the dining room. This dumb waiter had terminated in a butlers pantry which was now my spare bedroom. During the renovation the shaft had been converted to carry electrical wiring and, under the guise of installing high-speed computer cable to monitor the activities of my non-existent hedge fund, I got permission for a contractor who had installed surveillance equipment on The Divisions behalf to access the shaft. Having him fit a ladder inside, giving a route to the basement, I figured made the place almost worth the sky-high rent. Right now it was priceless. I opened a closet door, pulled off an access panel and in less than a minute was heading into a narrow lane at the back of the building. Any moment I expected to hear the nineteenth-century facade and the heritage-listed bay windows heading towards a messy landing on the Champs-?lys?es. Nothing. What was stopping them? I guessed that, having lost me down at the place de la Madeleine, they had returned immediately to my apartment. Uncertain if I had arrived back yet, the knock on the door was an attempt to find out. Just as well I hadnt answered. I was almost certain there were two of them thats how many I would have used and they were hiding right now near the elevator, waiting for me to return. That gave me a chance if I entered by the front doors and took the stairs, I was pretty sure I could surprise them. I was never the best shot in my graduating class, but I was good enough to take them both out. I slowed to a walk as I emerged from the lane, and ran a professional eye over the pedestrians, just to be certain that the guys inside didnt have help on the street. I saw women on their way home from shopping at the luxury stores on avenue Montaigne, couples walking their dogs, a guy in a Mets cap with his back to me a tourist by the look of it window-shopping at the patisserie next to my building, but I didnt see anyone who fitted the profile I had in mind. I turned to the vehicles and, equally, there was no white cab or shooters sitting in parked cars that I could see. I moved up close behind a fifty-year-old woman in high heels and her boyfriend, twenty years her junior. They wouldnt completely shield me from a sniper on a roof but they would certainly make the job more difficult. Under cover of them, I steadily closed down the distance to my building: eighty yards, forty, twenty As I passed the patisserie, the guy in the Mets cap spoke to my back: Wouldnt it have been easier just to open the fucking door, Mr Campbell? My heart stopped, every fear I had collapsing into the void that was once my stomach. In the next moment two distinct and contradictory thoughts fought for primacy. The first was: so this is how it ends? The retired agent outsmarted on a street in Paris, shot through the head, probably by somebody standing inside the patisserie. Vyshaya mera to me, I guess, bleeding out on the sidewalk, a man I dont even know pocketing the gun as he and the guy in the Mets cap walk away to be picked up by what else? a white taxi. The other thought was theres no way theyre killing me. Even if there was a shooter on a building or in a room at the Plaza Athen?e hotel, the guy in the cap would have signalled silently and the marksman would have done his job. They dont talk to you in the real world: only in movies do the bad guys have this pathological need to tell you their life story before they pull the trigger. Out here, theres too much danger and your minds way too revved not to just get it over with. Look at Santorini. Nevertheless, there was always a first time so I still wasnt sure whether to piss myself from fear or from relief. I looked at the man: he was a black guy in his fifties with a lean body and a handsome face, worn around the edges. More Reject China than fine Limoges, I told myself. This assessment was confirmed as he stepped a little closer and I realized he was limping badly on his right leg. I think you called me Mr Campbell. Youre mistaken, I said in French, filling every syllable with my best imitation of Parisian disdain. My name isnt Campbell. I was buying time, trying to work out what was going on. I guess thats one thing we agree on, he said in English, given that no Peter Campbell holds a Wall Street trading licence, and the hedge fund he manages doesnt exist. How the hell did he know that? I shifted casually, putting him more squarely between me and the patisserie window. So if youre not Campbell, who are you? he went on. Jude Garrett, FBI agent and author? Well, thats difficult too him being dead. Heres another weird thing about Garrett, he said calmly. I spoke to his cousin down in New Orleans. She was pretty amazed about his literary achievement she doubted he ever read a book, let alone wrote one. He knew all this stuff about me, but I was still alive! That was the important point and he seemed to be missing it. I scanned the rooftops, trying to see if there was a sniper. He watched my eyes, knowing what I was doing, but it didnt affect his swing: This is what I figure, Mr Campbell-or-whoever-you-are, you live under a fake identity but you wrote the book using a dead mans name, just to be safe. I think you worked for the government and only a handful of people know your real name. Maybe not even that many. To me, that says its probably not wise to ask what kind of work you did but, the truth is, I dont care. Your book is the best work on investigative technique I have ever read. I just want to talk about it. I stared at him. Finally, I got it out, speaking in English: You wanna talk about a book?! I was gonna kill you! Not exactly, he said before lowering his voice. Do I call you Mr Garrett? Campbell, I shot back through clenched teeth. Campbell. Not exactly, Mr Campbell. I think if anyone was gonna do the killing, it was actually me. He was right of course, and as youd expect that made me even more pissed. He put out his hand, unsmiling. Id learn in time he was a man who hardly ever smiled. Ben Bradley, he said calmly. Homicide Lieutenant, NYPD. Unsure what else to do, I gripped his hand and we shook a cop who was learning to walk again and a pensioned-off covert agent. I know that, on that night, encountering each other for the first time, we both thought that our race was run, our professional lives had ended, but heres the strange thing: that meeting was of huge significance. It mattered my God, did it matter. All of it turned out to be important, all of it turned out to be connected in some strange way: the murder at the Eastside Inn, Christos Nikolaides gunned down in a bar in Santorini, the failed covert operation in Bodrum, my friendship with Ben Bradley, and even a Buddhist monk travelling down a road in Thailand. If I believed in fate, I would have to say there was some hand guiding it all. Very soon I would learn that one great task still lay ahead of me, one thing which more than any other would define my life. Late one afternoon, a short time hence, I would be dragged back into the secret world, and any hope I had of reaching for normal would be gone, probably for ever. Like people say if you want to make God laugh, tell Him youve got plans. With precious little information and even less time, I was given the task of finding the one thing which every intelligence agency fears most: a man with no radical affiliations, no entry in any database and no criminal history. A cleanskin, a ghost. Im afraid that what follows isnt pleasant. If you want to sleep easy in your bed, if you want to look at your kids and think there is a chance they will live in a world better than the one we leave behind, it might be better not to meet him. Part Two Chapter One NO MATTER HOW many years may pass, even if I should be lucky and grow old in the sun, he will always be the Saracen to me. That was the code name I gave him in the beginning and I spent so long trying to discover his real identity it is hard to think of him as anything else. Saracen means Arab or in a much older use of the word a Muslim who fought against the Christians. Go back even further and you find that it once meant a nomad. All of those things fitted him perfectly. Even today, much of what we know about him is fragmentary. Thats not surprising he spent most of his life running between shadows, deliberately covering his tracks, like a Bedouin in the desert. But every life leaves a trace, every ship a wake, and even though it was often just a glimmer of phosphorescence in the dark, we chased them all. It took me through half the souks and mosques of the world, into the secret archives of Arab states and across the desk from dozens of people who might have known him. Later even after the events of that terrible summer were over teams of analysts interrogated his mother and sisters for weeks on end and, while I might be accused of putting words into his mouth or thoughts into his head, I make no apology. I ended up knowing more about the Saracen and his family than any man on earth. One thing beyond dispute is that when he was very young he was swept up in a public beheading. That was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabias second-largest city and, by popular agreement, its most sophisticated. Believe me, thats not saying much. Jeddah lies on the shore of the Red Sea and, by the time the Saracen was fourteen, he was living with his parents and two younger sisters in a modest villa on its outskirts, close enough to the water to smell the salt. We know this because many years later I stood outside the old house and photographed it. Like most Saudis, the boys father, a zoologist, despised the United States and what the Arab newspaper called its paid-up whore: Israel. His hatred, however, wasnt based on propaganda, the plight of the Palestinians or even religious bigotry no, it ran much deeper than that. Over the years, he had listened to both Washington and Tel Aviv and, unlike most Westerners, he believed what our political leaders told him their objective was to bring democracy to the Middle East. As a deeply devout Muslim, such a prospect filled him with anger. Being well educated, at least by local standards, he knew that one of the foundations of democracy was the separation between religion and the state. Yet, to many Muslims, the religion is the state. The last thing they want is to separate it. In his opinion, the only reason that infidels would advocate such a thing would be in order to divide and conquer, to hollow out the Arab world and destroy it, pursuing a campaign the Christians had begun with the First Crusade a thousand years ago and had continued ever since. It would be easy to dismiss the zoologist as an extremist, but in the twilight world of Middle East politics he was in the moderate wing of Saudi public opinion. There was one thing, however, which did set him apart from the mainstream: his views on the royal family. There are many things you cant do in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia preach about Christianity, attend a movie, drive a car if youre a woman, renounce your faith. But towering above them all is a prohibition on criticizing the House of Saud, the ruling dynasty, made up of the king, two hundred powerful princes and twenty thousand family members. All through that year, Jeddah was awash with whispers that the king had allowed American troops, the soldiers of an ungodly country, into the Prophets sacred land. Equally disturbing was information filtering back from Saudi dissidents in Europe about prominent princes losing fortunes in the casinos of Monte Carlo and showering gold watches on young women from modelling agencies in Paris. Like all Saudis, the zoologist had always known about the gilded palaces and profligate lifestyle of the king, but bad taste and extravagance are not haram forbidden in Islam. Prostitution, gambling and alcohol certainly are. Of course, if you live in Saudi Arabia you can express your disgust about the policies of the king and the behaviour of his family, you can call it an offence against God if you want and even advocate their forced removal. Just make sure you do it in the safety of your head. To speak to anyone who isnt your wife or father about it, even in the most abstract fashion, is reckless. The Mabahith, the Saudi secret police a law unto itself and its network of informers hear everything, know everything. It was late on a spring day when four of its agents, all wearing the white tunics called thobes and the usual red-and-white-check headdress, visited the zoologist at work. They showed their identity cards and led him out of his office, through an area of laboratories and work stations and into the car park. The twenty other people working in that section of the Red Sea Marine Biology department watched the door slam behind him, nobody saying a word, not even his three closest friends one of whom was almost certainly the informer. We will never know exactly what the zoologist was accused of, or what defence he offered, because Saudi judicial proceedings, conducted in secret, arent concerned with time-consuming niceties like witnesses, lawyers, juries or even evidence. The system relies entirely on signed confessions obtained by the police. Its strange how methods of torture are one of the few things which cross all racial, religious and cultural boundaries poor militia in Rwanda who worship ghosts use pretty much the same methods as rich Catholics supervising state security in Colombia. As a result, the Muslim cops who took the zoologist into a cell in a Jeddah prison had nothing new to offer just a heavy-duty truck battery with special clips for the genitals and nipples. The first the zoologists family knew of the catastrophe engulfing them was when he failed to arrive home from work. After evening prayers they made a series of phone calls to his colleagues, which either went unanswered or were met by contrived ignorance from grim experience, people knew that those listening in would target anyone trying to help a criminals family. Increasingly desperate, the zoologists wife finally agreed to her fourteen-year-old son heading out to try to find him. She couldnt do it herself because Saudi law forbids a woman to be in public unless she is accompanied by her brother, father or husband. The teenager left his mother and two sisters and set off on his dirt bike, a gift for his last birthday from his dad. Keeping to the backstreets, he drove fast to a group of seaside office blocks, where he found his fathers car alone in the parking lot. Only in a police state does a child pray for nothing more serious than a crippling accident to have befallen their parent. Beseeching Allah that the zoologist was lying injured in the darkened building that housed his office, the boy approached the entrance. A Pakistani security guard stationed in an alcove in the gloomy interior was startled when he saw a boys face peering through the glass doors. Yelling in bad Arabic, he motioned the kid away, grabbing a billy club, ready to unlock the doors and use it if he had to. But the boy didnt flinch calling back desperately in Arabic, imploring the help of the Prophet, saying something about a missing father. It was only then that the guard realized the visit was connected to the event that had caused a tidal wave of whispered gossip all afternoon. He stared at the childs drowning face he was far too young to be clinging to such tiny hopes and lowered the club. Maybe it was because he had kids of his own, but the tectonic plates of the guards universe shifted, and he did something totally out of character he took a chance. With his back turned to the security cameras monitoring the doors, gesticulating as if shooing him away, he told the boy what little he knew: four members of the state police, led by a colonel, had taken his father away in handcuffs. According to their driver a fellow Pakistani to whom hed taken a cup of tea they had been secretly investigating the man for months. But listen close, he said, this was the important part: they were talking about charging him with corruption on earth, a term so broad as to be meaningless except for one thing. It carried the death sentence. Tell your family, the Pakistani continued, theyll have to act fast if theyre going to save him. With that he threw the doors open as if hed lost patience and, for the benefit of the cameras, started swinging the billy club with a wild vengeance. The boy ran for the dirt bike and kicked it to life. Caring nothing for himself, he sped across the parking lot, nearly lost it in a drift of sand and flew through the gates. Though no one will ever know for sure, I imagine that mentally he was being torn in two: as a child, he desperately wanted the comfort of his mother but, as a man, the head of the household in his fathers absence, he needed the counsel of other men. There was only one way this conflict could be resolved; he was an Arab, and that meant two thousand years of baggage about male pride. So it was inevitable that he would turn north, into the darkest part of the city, towards the house of his grandfather. Even as he drove, a sense of informed doom started to grow upon him. He knew his father was as good as locked in a cattle car being driven by state security and he realized it would take a huge amount of wasta to alter the course of that journey. In the absence of democracy and efficient bureaucracies, wasta is the way the Arab world works; it means connections, influence, a web of old favours and tribal history. With wasta, doors even to palaces open. Without it, they remain forever closed. The boy had never thought about it before, but he saw now that his family, including his grandfather, whom he loved so dearly, were modest people: modest in ambition, modest in their connections. For them to influence state security and have what was considered an attack on the House of Saud dismissed would be well, it would be like taking a knife to a nuclear war. By the end of the night after the long and closed counsels of his uncles, grandfather and cousins had failed to initiate one significant phone call he knew he was right about their chances. But that didnt mean that any of them gave up: for five months, the family, close to collapse under the stress, tried to penetrate the Saudi gulag and find one tiny life hidden in its labyrinth. And what did they get for their trouble? No information, no assistance from their government and certainly no contact with the zoologist. Like the victims of 9/11, he had just gone to work one morning and never returned. The man was lost in a surreal maze, trapped among the living dead in hundreds of crowded cells. It was here he quickly learned that everybody ends up signing a confession a testament to the twelve-volt lead-acid battery but that among the inmates there were two distinct groups. The first surrendered themselves to their fate, or Allah, and just scrawled their name on the damn thing. The second group figured their only hope was to sign the document in order finally to get before a judge. They could then recant their confession and proclaim their innocence. This was the strategy the zoologist adopted. The Saudi judicial system, however, has developed a way of dealing with this: the prisoner is simply returned to the police to explain his change of mind. Its far too depressing to go into the enhanced methods used against these men and women suffice to say, nobody has ever gone before a judge and recanted their confession a second time. Never. Having at last admitted and been convicted of seditious statements and corruption on earth, the zoologists journey through the system ground to a sudden halt. The cause was traffic problems in downtown Jeddah: at least ten days notice was needed to close the huge car park outside the main mosque. Only then could the white marble platform be erected in its centre. Chapter Two SPECTATORS STARTED GATHERING early in the morning, as soon as they saw the barricades going up and the special team of carpenters erecting the platform. Public announcements about impending executions are rare in the kingdom but, by cellphone and text message, the word always spreads. Within hours, large crowds were streaming into the car park and, by the time a twelve-year-old boy the Saracens best friend drove past with his father, he knew exactly what it meant. It was a Friday the Muslim day of rest and the traffic was terrible so it took the kid over an hour to get home. He immediately grabbed his bicycle and rode eight miles to tell his friend what he had seen. Fearing the worst, mentioning nothing to his mother or sisters, the Saracen got on his dirt bike, piled his friend on board and headed for the Corniche, the road that runs beside the Red Sea into downtown Jeddah. Just as the two boys caught sight of the sea, noon prayers had finished at the main mosque and hundreds of men were spilling out to join masses of spectators waiting in the parking lot. In the harsh summer light the men in their stark white thobes made a stunning contrast to the knots of women in their black abayas and face veils. Only little kids in jeans and shirts added a splash of colour. Executions are about the only form of public entertainment permitted in Saudi Arabia movies, concerts, dancing, plays and even mixed-sex coffee shops are banned. But everybodys welcome, women and kids too, to see someone lose their life. Eschewing such modern innovations as medical injections or even the firing squad, the Saudi method seems to be a real crowd-pleaser: public beheading. It was close to 110 degrees on the Corniche that day, the heat bouncing off the asphalt in shimmering waves, as the dirt bike threaded rapidly through the weekend traffic. Up ahead, chaos was unfolding: the road was being torn up for a new overpass, construction machinery blocked all but one lane and cars were tailed back for blocks. Inside his sweltering helmet, the zoologists son was also in chaos frightened almost to vomiting, desperately hoping it was an African drug dealer being taken to the platform. He couldnt afford to think that, if he was wrong, the last he would see of his father would be him kneeling on the marble, the flies already buzzing, the silver sword disappearing in a fountain of red. He looked at the impenetrable traffic ahead and swung the dirt bike off the shoulder and, in a whirl of dust and debris, blasted into the badly cratered construction site. Despite the size of the crowd gathering for the display, there was little noise in the parking lot just the murmur of voices and the sound of a mullah reading from the Quran over the mosques public address system. Gradually even the quiet voices fell silent as an official car made its way through the cordon and stopped at the platform. A powerfully built man in an immaculate white thobe got out of the vehicle and mounted the five steps to the platform. A polished leather strap ran diagonally across his chest and terminated on his left hip, supporting a scabbard which held a long, curved sword. This was the executioner. His name was Said bin Abdullah bin Mabrouk al-Bishi and he was acknowledged as the best craftsman in the kingdom, his reputation built primarily on a procedure called a cross amputation. Far more difficult than a simple beheading and meted out as punishment for highway robbery, it requires the rapid use of custom-made knives to cut off a prisoners right hand and left foot. By applying himself diligently to this process, Said al-Bishi had over many years steadily raised the overall standard of Saudi Arabias public punishments. Only occasionally now did the public see an executioner having to keep hacking at a prisoners head or limbs to detach them from his body. Returning greetings from several onlookers, al-Bishi had barely had time to familiarize himself with his workspace when he saw a white van push through the crowd. A policeman lifted a barrier and the air-conditioned vehicle stopped next to the steps. The crowd craned forward to catch sight of the occupant as the rear doors opened. The zoologist stepped out of the van into the cauldron barefoot, blindfolded by a thick white bandage, his wrists handcuffed behind his back. Among those watching were people who knew him, or thought they did, and it took a moment for them to recognize his features. God knows what the secret police had done to him in the previous five months, but he seemed to have shrunk he was a shell of a man, broken and diminished at least in his body, like those translucent old people you sometimes see in retirement homes. He was thirty-eight years old. He knew exactly where he was and what was happening; an official of the so-called Ministry of Justice had arrived at his cell forty minutes earlier and had read him a formal decree. It was the first he knew that he had been sentenced to death. As two uniformed cops led him slowly to the steps of the platform, witnesses said he raised his face to the sun and tried to straighten his shoulders. Im sure he didnt want his son and daughters to hear that their father didnt have courage. On the Corniche, gridlocked drivers watched with a mixture of disgust and envy as the dirt bike blasted past, using the construction site as a private freeway. Damn kids. The young boy slid the bike past coiled fire hoses used to spray the overworked Bangladeshi construction workers and prevent them passing out from heat exhaustion, then weaved through a forest of concrete pylons. He had about seven minutes to reach the square. I dont think, even later in life, he could have explained why he undertook that wild ride. What was he going to do there? My own belief is that, in his fear and anguish, all he could think of was that he was of his fathers soul as much as his body and such a bond would accept nothing less than his presence. He swung the bike hard left, through a wasteland of piled debris, and flew even faster towards a road that fed into the square. It was blocked by a chain-link fence but, on the other side of bundles of steel reinforcing rods, he saw an opening just wide enough to squeeze through. Allah was with him! He slid the bike even tighter left, slaloming through the bundles of rods, sending up clouds of fine dust, closing fast on the narrow gap. He was going to make it! The zoologist, blindfolded on the platform, felt a hand fall on his neck and press him down. It belonged to the executioner and he was being told to kneel. As he lowered himself, the feeling of the sun on his face indicated that he was facing Mecca, forty miles away. Directly in its path was his house, and the thought of his wife and children sitting in its loving confines sent a shudder of loss through his body. The executioner gripped the mans shoulder the swordsman had been here many times before and he knew the exact moment when a man might need steadying. A voice called out a command on the mosques public address system. All across the square, stretching from the austere Ministry of Foreign Affairs building to the grass in front of the mosque, thousands of people knelt to face Mecca in prayer. As with all devout Muslims, the zoologist knew the words by heart, and he spoke them in unison with the crowd. He also knew their exact length: by any reasonable estimate, he had four minutes left on earth. The boy, half blinded by the dust kicked up by his swerving bike, didnt see one bundle of the steel reinforcing rods until a second too late. Protruding at least a foot from the others, one of the rods was already sliding between the spokes of his front wheel when he first registered it. His reaction time was incredible he hurled the bike to the side, but not quite fast enough. With the front wheel spinning, the rod tore the spokes apart in a fury of ripping metal. Chunks of thin alloy ripped through the bikes gas tank and cylinder head, the wheel collapsed, the front forks dug into the dirt and the bike stopped instantly. The zoologists son and his friend kept going straight over the handlebars, and landing in a tangle of flying limbs and spraying dirt. Badly stunned, the dirt bike fit only for the scrap heap, they were barely conscious. By the time the first of the shocked motorists watching from the Corniche had reached them, the prayers in the parking lot had finished and the crowd was rising. The executioner stepped close to the kneeling prisoner and the whole square fell silent. The swordsman made a slight adjustment to the angle of the zoologists neck and those spectators near enough saw a few words pass between them. Many years later, I talked to a number of people who were in the square that day. Among those I spoke to was Said al-Bishi, the executioner. I had tea with him in the majlis the formal reception room of his home, and asked him what the zoologist had said. Its rare a man can say anything in that situation, Said al-Bishi told me, so of course it stays in your mind. He took a long breath. It was brief but he said it with conviction. He told me: The only thing that matters is that Allah and the Saudi people forgive me my sins. Al-Bishi fell silent and glanced towards Mecca apparently, that was it. I nodded reverently. Allahu Akbar, I said in reply. God is great. He took another sip of tea, gazing into the middle distance, lost in thoughts about the wisdom a man finds in his last moments. I kept looking at him, moving my head sagely. The one thing you dont do in any Arab country is accuse a man of lying, no matter how indirectly. As a consequence, I just kept looking at him, and he kept staring off at wisdom. Outside, I could hear the water tinkling from a fountain in his beautiful courtyard, the sound of servants bustling in the womens quarters. Being state executioner must have paid pretty well. Finally he began to move uncomfortably in his seat and then he shot a glance at me to see if I was just the quiet type or if I was really calling him on it. I didnt take my eyes off him, and he laughed. You are an intelligent man for a Westerner, he said, so now let us discuss what he really said, shall we? When I bent down to the prisoner I told him to expose as much of his neck as possible and not to move this would make it easier on both of us. He didnt seem to care, he just motioned me closer. Someone must have injured the inside of his mouth an electrode, maybe because he had trouble talking. You know the king? he whispered. It took me by surprise, but I said Id had the honour of meeting His Majesty several times. He nodded as if he expected it. Next time you meet him, tell him this is what an American once said you can kill a thinker but you cant kill the thought, he said. The executioner looked at me and shrugged. And did you ever tell him? I asked. The king, I mean. The executioner laughed. No, he replied. Having seen the alternative, I enjoy having my head on my shoulders. I didnt need to ask what happened next other people in the car park that day had told me. As al-Bishi finished his brief words with the prisoner, a strong breeze sprang up off the Red Sea nearly everyone mentioned it because it was so hot on the asphalt. The executioner stood up and drew his sword in one fluid movement. He took a single step back from the prisoner and measured the distance expertly with his eye before securely planting his feet. The only sound was static from the mosques public address system. Al-Bishi held the long sword out horizontally, straightened his back and lifted his jaw to accentuate his profile when I met him I couldnt help but notice his vanity. One-handed, he swung the sword up high and, as it reached the apex of its arc, every eye in the square followed, almost blinded by the white sun directly above. He paused, the sword dazzling, as if to milk the drama from the situation then he locked his second hand around the handle and brought the blade down with breathtaking speed. The razors edge hit the zoologist square on the nape of the neck. Just as he had been asked, the prisoner didnt move. The thing everybody tells you about is the sound loud and wet, like someone whacking open a watermelon. The blade sliced through the zoologists spinal cord, the carotid arteries and the larynx until the head was separated. It rolled across the marble, eyelids flickering, followed by an arc of blood from the cut arteries. The zoologists headless torso seemed to float for a moment, as if in shock, and then it pitched forward into its own fluids. The executioner stood in his unmarked thobe and looked down at his handiwork, the static on the public address was replaced by a Muslim prayer, a swarm of flies started to gather and the crowd in the square broke into applause. The dead mans young son breathing hard from trying to run, badly grazed all down his left side, a handkerchief wrapped around one bloody hand limped into the car park just after his fathers body had been loaded into the startling coolness of the white van. That was the reason the vehicle was air-conditioned not for the comfort of the living but to inhibit the stench of the dead. Most of the spectators had gone, leaving just the cops to take down the barricades and a couple of Bangladeshi labourers to wash down the marble. The boy looked around, trying to see somebody he recognized to ask them the identity of the executed prisoner, but the men were moving fast to escape the wind, pulling their chequered headscarves down like Bedouin to protect their faces. On the far side of the patch of grass, the muezzin the assistant to the mosques leader was closing wooden shutters, sealing the building against what was looking more and more like a major sandstorm. Whipped by the wind, the boy ran and called to him through the iron railing, asking him for a name, a profession. The muezzin turned, shielding his face from the sand, shouting back. The wind snatched away his voice so there was only one word the boy heard. Zoologist. Footage from Saudi surveillance cameras monitoring the square dug out a long time later showed that the muezzin went back to his work and didnt even see the kid turn away and stare at the marble platform, his body battered by the burning wind, his heart obviously consumed by utter desolation. He didnt move for minutes and, determined to act like a man and not to cry, he looked like a windswept statue. In truth, I think he was probably travelling fast: like most people who suffer great horror, he had come unstuck in space and time. He probably would have remained standing there for hours, but one of the cops approached, yelling at him to move, and he stumbled away to escape the cops vicious bamboo cane. As he headed through the whirling sand the tears finally burst through his iron resolve and, alone in a city he hated now, he let out a single awful scream. People told me later it was a howl of grief, but I knew it wasnt. It was the primal scream of birth. In a process as bloody and painful as its physical counterpart, the Saracen had been born into terrorism in a windswept car park in central Jeddah. In time, out of abiding love for his father, he would grow into a passionate believer in conservative Islam, an enemy of all Western values, an avowed destroyer of the Fahd monarchy and a supporter of violent jihad. Thank you, Saudi Arabia, thank you. Chapter Three DESPITE ITS HUGE wealth, vast oil reserves and love of high-tech American armaments, nothing really works in Saudi Arabia. The Jeddah bus system, for example. With his dirt bike wrecked, the zoologists son had no alternative means of transport, which meant that due to the systems erratic timetable and the worsening dust storm news of the execution beat him home by twenty minutes. His extended family had already gathered in the villas modest majlis and his mother was filling her relatives with growing terror. Between waves of pain and disbelief, she was railing against her country, the Saudi judicial system and the royal family itself. Although no Saudi man let alone society itself had ever been able to admit it, she was almost always the smartest person in the room. Her bitter assault came to an end only when someone looked out of a window and saw her son approaching. Barely breathing through her tears, she met him in the hallway, desperately worried that tragedy piled upon tragedy he had witnessed his fathers execution. When he shook his head, recounting fragments about the bike wreck in the construction site, she slumped to her knees for the first and only time, thanking Allah for every wound on his body. The boy bent down, raised his mother up and, over her shoulder, saw his two young sisters standing alone, as if marooned on their own private island of despair. He gathered them all into his arms and recounted the final grief that had weighed on him all the way home but hadnt yet occurred to any of them as an executed prisoner, there would be no funeral or burial, no closing of his fathers eyelids, no washing and shrouding of his body under Islamic ritual as their final kindness to him. His remains would be thrown into common ground and buried in an unmarked grave. If they were lucky, one of the workers would lay him on his right side and face him towards Mecca. If they were lucky. In the months which followed, according to the mother in her long-delayed interrogation, the oppressive cloud of loss that settled over the house had little to disturb it. Apart from close relatives, there were no visitors or phone calls the nature of the crime meant the family was ostracized by friends and the community at large. In a way, the family too had been cast into an unmarked grave and buried. Even so, the steady passage of the days finally dulled the keen edge of their grief, and the boy an outstanding student at last picked up his books and started to continue his studies at home. More than any other thing, it steadied the family. After all, education is a grab for a better future, no matter how impossible the prospect may seem at the time. Then, eight months after the execution, the eastern sky broke with an unheralded dawn unknown to the family, the grandfather had been working relentlessly on their behalf. Through what little wasta he commanded and the payment of bribes he could ill afford, he had succeeded in obtaining passports, exit permits and visas for his daughter-in-law and the three kids. Certainly it was a testament to how much he loved them, but the truth was the family was an embarrassment to the authorities and they were probably pleased to see them go. Whatever the subtext, he arrived late, gave the family the startling news and told them they would leave early in the morning, before the people whose help hed purchased had a chance to change their minds. All through the night they packed what little possessions they cared about, took one last turn through their memories and, with nobody to bid farewell, were on the road by dawn. The convoy of four overburdened family vehicles drove for twelve hours, across the breadth of the country, through timeless desert, past never-ending oil fields, until at dusk they saw the turquoise waters of the Arabian Gulf. Looping across the sea like a necklace was the glittering causeway that connected Saudi Arabia to the independent island nation of Bahrain. It ran for sixteen miles over bridges and viaducts, a triumph of Dutch engineering known as the King Fahd Causeway. Every mile, giant billboards of the Saudi monarch smiled down on the family as they crossed the ocean, an irony not lost on the boy: he was the man who had signed the decree executing his father. Fahds hated face was the last thing he saw of his homeland. After paying another bribe at the border, the grandfather and three cousins were allowed briefly to enter Bahrain without papers to ferry the familys goods to a house the old man had rented through a friend of a neighbour. Nobody said anything, but all their hearts sank when they saw it. The dilapidated home stood in a small square of dirt in a semi-industrial section of Manama, the countrys capital. The front door was hanging open, the plumbing barely worked and electricity served only two rooms but there was no going back now and anything was better than life in Jeddah. With the familys meagre goods finally unloaded, the boys mother stood with the old man in the decaying kitchen, quietly trying to thank him for everything he had done. He shook his head, pressed a small roll of banknotes into her hand and told her he would send more not much, but enough every month. As she bit her lip, trying not to cry at his generosity, he walked slowly to his granddaughters, who were watching from the dirt yard, and put his arms around them. Then he turned and hesitated he had left the hardest part to last. His grandson, aware of what was coming, was trying to look busy opening boxes on the back porch. His grandfather approached and waited for him to look up. Neither of them was quite sure, as men, how much emotion to show until the grandfather reached out and held the boy tight. This was no time for pride; he was an old man, and only God knew if he would ever see his grandson again. He stepped back and looked at the youngster every day he thought of how much he resembled his own boy, the one they had executed. Still, life lives on in our children and their children, and not even a king can take that away. Abruptly he turned and walked towards the vehicles, calling to the cousins to start the engines. He didnt look back lest the family see the tears rolling down his cheeks. The boy, surrounded by his mother and two sisters, stood in the gathering darkness for a long time and watched the tail lights of their former lives disappear into the night. Chapter Four TWO DAYS LATER, for the first time in her adult life, the childrens mother went out in public unaccompanied by an adult male. Despite her fear and embarrassment, she had no choice if she didnt keep the children occupied their loneliness and new-found poverty might overwhelm them. Adrift in a foreign land without relatives or friends, she found the local bus stop, bundled the kids on board and walked for hours with them through the citys shopping malls. It was a revelation. None of them had any experience of a liberal interpretation of Islam, and they looked wide-eyed at posters for American movies and Bollywood musicals, stared at Western women in tank tops and shorts and couldnt believe Muslim women in elaborate abayas who had surrendered their veils for Chanel sunglasses. For the boy, one thing above everything else swept his feet from under him. The only female faces he had ever seen were those of his mother and close relatives he hadnt even seen women in photographs: magazines and billboards showing unveiled women were banned in Saudi Arabia. So, in the shops of Bahrain, suddenly afforded a basis of comparison, he learned something which otherwise he would never have known his mother was beautiful. Of course, all sons think that about their mothers, but the boy knew it wasnt prejudice. She was still only thirty-three, with high cheekbones, flawless skin and wide almond eyes that sparkled with intelligence. Her nose was fine and straight, leading the eye directly to the perfect curve of her mouth. More than that, her recent suffering gave her a grace and hauteur far above her modest position in life. One night not long afterwards, with his sisters in bed, he sat beneath a bare light strung across the kitchen and haltingly told his mother how lovely she was. Laughing, she kissed the top of his head, but in bed that night she cried quietly when a boy started to notice a womans beauty it meant he was growing up, and she knew she was losing him. In the weeks that followed she succeeded in enrolling the three kids in good schools and the boy, after six attempts, found a mosque that was rigid and anti-Western enough to have met with his fathers approval. A fifteen-year-old who walked in off the street, unaccompanied by any male member of his family, was an unusual addition to any group of worshippers, so, on the first Friday after prayers, the imam, blind since birth, and several other men invited him for tea in a beautiful garden at the back of the building. Under a purple jacaranda tree the boy volunteered almost nothing about the events that had brought him to Bahrain, but the men werent easily diverted and, unable to lie to the imam, he finally told them in fractured vignettes the story of his fathers death. At the end the men bowed their heads and praised his father. What son what devout Muslim could not be proud of a man who had spoken out in defence of his faith and its values? they asked angrily. For a boy who had been shamed and rejected by his community, who had been lonely for so long, it was a salutary experience. Already the mosque was starting to fill the emotional void at the centre of his life. The blind imam told him that God sends only as much suffering as a man can handle. Therefore the horrific events in Jeddah were a testament to his fathers deep devotion and courage. With that he reached out and ran his fingers over the teenagers face, committing him to memory. It was a sign of respect, a special welcome into their fellowship. The boy saying only that the worshippers were highly educated told his mother nothing of the lectures he attended most nights at the mosque. It was mens business, the imam said, and a man could speak freely only if he knew it would not be repeated. And while the boy took those first steps into violent politics with what turned out to be a cell of the Muslim Brotherhood, the rest of the fleet was sailing in the opposite direction. Unlike most people in Bahrain, the family didnt have a TV, but the girls exposure to pop culture increased every day at school, in malls, on billboards and as with every other country in the region, popular culture didnt mean Arabic. The growing Americanization of his sisters caused escalating arguments between the boy and his mother until one night she spoke to him hard and straight. She told him Bahrain was their only future and she wanted the girls to fit in, to find the love of friends she wanted that for all her kids and if it meant rejecting everything about the way they had lived in Saudi then she would not cry one tear for something that had brought them so much misery. She said loneliness was a razor that cut a heart to shreds, that a child had a right to dream and that if the girls didnt strive to be happy now they never would. She told it to him with insight and honesty, and why shouldnt she? She might as well have been talking about herself. He had never heard his mother so on fire and he realized that while to the outside world she was still a Muslim, at the heart of her feeling abandoned by God she really worshipped only life and her children now. Deeply troubled, he reminded her that Allah was watching them and made his way to bed. After he fell asleep, his mother went to the girls room, woke them quietly and put her arms around their shoulders. She told them she knew they were growing towards a different light but they could no longer offend their brother in his own house. The music had to stop and, when they left the house for school, they would wear the veil. The girls were like their mother, in looks and temperament, and they both started objecting. She silenced them and told them it was because their brother loved them and he was only trying to discharge the huge responsibility he felt towards their father. She looked at their faces, pleading with her to change her mind, and she almost smiled she was about to share a secret with her girls, and she had never done that with anyone except her own mother. I need your help, she said. Theres something I have to raise with him thats very important hell never agree if he thinks you are being corrupted. The two girls forgot their protests, wondering what on earth their mother was planning to broach. We cant go on like this, she said. Its not just the house, your grandfather isnt young what happens if he dies and the money stops? She let the grim ramifications sink in before she told them: I have applied for a job. Of all the lessons the girls would learn as young Muslim women, the one their mother demonstrated that night was the most important: to take command, to realize that the only stairway to heaven is the one you build yourself on earth. They stared at her in wonder. A job?! She told them shed heard about the opening from one of the mothers at their school and had phoned the company weeks ago. She had been on the point of giving up, but a letter had arrived that day asking her to come for an interview. She explained she had said nothing to their brother in case she wasnt hired lets be honest, she said, it was almost certain she wouldnt get it, not on her first try as there was no point in having an argument without anything to gain. Beyond those simple facts she would tell them nothing, insisting that it was late and they get to sleep. By morning the girls had thrown their support behind their mother in the only way they knew how the posters were down, the stacks of magazines were stuffed in garbage bags and all their music and make-up was hidden away. On the day of the interview, with the kids at school, their mother gathered what little savings she had and, following a carefully thought-out plan, went to a small boutique in one of the best malls and bought a good knock-off of a Louis Vuitton handbag and a pair of Gucci sunglasses. In the public washroom she swapped out her handbag, dropped the old one in the trash and removed her veil. She was determined to give herself every advantage, including the one commented on by her son a few months earlier. Overcoming a lifetime of modesty wasnt easy, though, and even with the sunglasses in place she still couldnt work up the courage to look at herself in the mirror. Appearing modern and very beautiful, she finally slipped out of the door and walked to the office tower next door: the head office of Batelco, the local telephone monopoly. Tingling with fear and excitement, she sat on a couch and waited to be called for the interview. It occurred to her that her feelings werent far removed from those on her wedding night and right now she felt about as naked. No wonder women enjoy going out like this, she thought. A secretary approached and showed her into a conference room, where two men and a female executive explained that the company was expanding its number of customer relations officers. What did she think of that? She told them it was a good idea the companys reputation for service was so bad it was difficult to believe they even had any to start with. The senior guy stared at her and then laughed. All day they had heard prospective employees tell them what an outstanding company it was. Finally they were interviewing someone who at least understood the job was necessary. Still smiling, he said most of the work was dealing with customer complaints about overcharging, explaining billing cycles, unlocking the mysteries of pricing plans. She told them she didnt have any experience but she was still an expert; as a widow on a small income she had to understand and analyse all the household bills, including Batelcos. Out of anxiety she kept rattling on, not realizing that even though they were nodding their heads, the panel members were barely listening. They knew the job was more about handling irate subscribers than technical qualifications. The woman in front of them seemed to have a rare combination of intelligence and style enough to give pause to even the most rabid customer. The committee looked at one another, communicating in a shorthand of raised eyebrows and tiny shrugs, and without a word between them came to a decision. The senior guy interrupted and asked if she could start on Monday. She was so excited she couldnt answer, and it was only after he repeated the question that she managed to say yes. She walked out of the conference room with a maelstrom of thoughts crowding her head but, even in the midst of it, she knew she couldnt share the news with her daughters. Everything could still fall at the last hurdle: her son. After dinner, casually, she asked him to go with her to the nearby grocery market. She had been planning it all afternoon and, as they set out, she saw that her timing was perfect. It was the start of the weekend and groups of youths had gathered outside a car customizing shop, squads of Pakistani men who lived on site at local factories squatted on street corners and carloads of rowdy boys headed into movie houses in the city. As they walked, she pointed out every unsavoury aspect and told him that soon, veiled or not, the girls would be of an age where they would no longer be able to leave the house. He nodded; hed thought about it too. As a male, he was the head of the family and responsible for the womens virtue. We have to move to a better area, she said. Sure, he replied. And how do we pay for it? I get a job, she said quietly, conveniently omitting to mention she already had one. He stopped and stared at her. Thats ridiculous! he said. She lowered her veiled face in obedience, wisely letting the first blast of anger and surprise blow by. He turned to walk on towards the grocery store but she didnt move. Ridiculous maybe, but give me an alternative, she said steadily. How else do we keep the girls safe? He continued towards the store. And still she didnt move, determined to fight her son for a chance at a better life. We cant live on charity for ever! she called after him. What man would want it? No mother would allow it. With a job we could afford a new life She didnt finish. He turned and stalked back to her, furious. The answer is no its wrong! He started dragging her by the sleeve, but she had seen the opening she had been so desperately hoping for. A woman working may not suit some idea of manhood, it may offend a few wild-eyed imams, but it isnt wrong, she said coldly. Her son glimpsed the chasm opening in front of him, but he couldnt take back what he had said. Instead, he tried closing the whole subject down, indicating the groups of men watching the unfolding domestic dispute. Come on! he said. Youre making a spectacle of us! But she wouldnt move. Its years since I did my religious studies, she said, so tell me where in Islam does it say its wrong for a woman to take honest work? Its wrong because I say but she didnt even let him finish that nonsense. Your opinion is greater than the Prophets, peace be upon him? she wanted to know. To even think such a thing was a sacrilege, and for a moment he couldnt reply. His mother hammered the advantage: It was Gods will you took your fathers place now start acting like him. You think he would want his daughters living like this? You think hed want his wife?! The boy knew the answers. He looked across the vast expanse of gender that separated them, and into a tiny window. It was the narrow slit in her veil for over a thousand years the only way by which men and women in the Arab world have observed each other. She held his gaze with her beautiful, shadowed eyes. I asked if you thought your father would want us living in these circumstances now answer me, she demanded. He tried to stare her down, but she wouldnt have it and his eyes slid away. She was still his mother and he loved her dearly. How much would a job pay? he asked at last. Chapter Five THE FAMILYS INDIAN summer might have continued for ever except for a group of Bangladeshi construction workers. Within a month of her son agreeing that she could work, they had moved to a house in a good neighbourhood and, five days a week, she got on the bus with her daughters and went to her job. Never before had she felt so much purpose in her life, or such quiet enjoyment of her two girls. It came to an end two days after the construction workers started building a small office block next to the boys school. Unfamiliar with the finer points of site preparation, the Bangladeshis drove a mechanical backhoe through the underground water and power lines, killing off the air-conditioning in the school. While the hapless driver looked at his barbecued machine, the kids cheered him from their windows, fully aware they would be given the rest of the day off. The Saracen decided to surprise his mother and take her for lunch, but the Manama bus service was about as reliable as Jeddahs and he arrived a few minutes after the Batelco building had closed for the break. Assuming she was inside in the staff cafeteria, he went to the mall to get a drink and to consider how he might spend his free afternoon. He stepped off an escalator, saw her from thirty yards away and, in that moment, whatever small life he had constructed for himself in Bahrain fell to pieces. Unveiled and wearing lipstick, her Gucci sunglasses pushed up on to her head, she was having lunch at a caf? with a group of co-workers. He stared at her unveiled face and make-up, shattered. She might as well have been naked in his eyes. Even worse than her immodesty, though, were the four men who were sitting at the large table. One look at them, and he knew they were not the fathers or brothers of any of the other women. A wave of sudden retching, of betrayal, almost choked him and, just as he beat that back, he was swamped by the rolling desolation of failure: he realized that he had let his father down in the worst imaginable way. He considered confronting his mother in front of them, covering her face and dragging her home but somehow he managed to force his legs to walk away. Angry, wounded virtually beyond repair, he went to the only refuge he knew the mosque desperate for comfort and advice from the imam and the other soldiers of the Muslim Brotherhood. He returned home so late that night and was deliberately so tardy in getting up the next morning that he didnt see his mother and sisters until dinner time. Strangely, he made no reference to what hed seen at the mall but, all through the meal, his mother was aware something was wrong. When the girls had gone to bed she asked him what it was but, withdrawn and surly, he wouldnt be corralled into talking about it. The only thing she could think of was that it had something to do with a girl, so she decided not to pressure him; shed had brothers herself and she knew how hard the teenage years were for boys. It took several days, but he finally sat down and spoke with her. With downcast eyes, he said that, after months of introspection, he had decided to follow a religious life and would one day God willing become an imam. She looked at him, taken aback, but made no attempt to interrupt. Whatever dreams shed had for her son, they had never included that. He told her quietly that he knew a spiritual life was a hard road but, since the death of his father, religion had brought him greater consolation than anything else and, as the imam had told him on several occasions, it was a decision of which his father would have been immensely proud. His mother knew that was true and, while it explained his recent silence, she couldnt help but think there was something else about the decision she didnt understand. She stared at her only boy every month looking more like his father and making her love him all the more deeply for it trying to will him to tell her everything, but he just looked up and met her gaze, unwavering. Im sixteen in two weeks, he said, but I still need your permission to get a passport. I want to go to Pakistan for a month. She said nothing, too shocked Pakistan? Where did that come from? Its during the long summer vacation, so it wont affect my studies, he continued coolly. Outside Quetta theres a famous madrassah a religious school that has a perfect course for young men starting out. The imam tells me it will set the high standard for the rest of my career. His mother nodded; she could almost hear the blind man saying it. What would he know about her son? The boy was tall and strong, surprisingly athletic, and she doubted that a life of religious study would ever satisfy him. Even if I agreed how could we afford it? she asked, opting for the most reasonable-sounding objection first. The course is free, he said, and the imam has offered to pay the air fare. Other members of the mosque have said theyll write to friends to arrange accommodation. She bit her lip she should have anticipated something like that. When would you leave? she asked. Ten days, he replied, daring her to say it was too soon. When?! Ten days, he repeated, knowing she had heard well enough. It took her a moment to stop her hearts wild tattoo. Only then could she try to address her fear that if she didnt help him it might open a gulf which might never be healed. What do you say? he asked, the tone aggressive enough for her to understand the answer he expected. Id never stand in the way of such an honourable ambition, she said at last. But of course I have concerns of my own, so it depends on meeting with the imam and making sure Im satisfied with the arrangements. He smiled pleasantly as he got to his feet. No problem. Hes expecting your call. Two days later, reassured by her meeting, she signed the application for an expedited passport, and that afternoon he went to the office of Pakistan Air and bought his ticket. By then his mother had realized he would be away for his birthday and, in the flurry of packing and shopping, she and the girls took on one extra burden organizing a surprise birthday celebration for the day of his departure. It was a poorly kept secret, but he seemed to play along, feigning not to notice the extra food being brought in and the invitations going out to his school and the mosque. By 4 a.m. on the day of the party, however, he was already awake and fully dressed. Silently he slid into his sisters room and stood at the end of their beds. They were exhausted, having stayed up until midnight completing the preparations, and neither of them stirred. He looked at their lovely faces sailing quietly across the dark oceans of sleep, and perhaps it was only then he realized how much he loved them. But this was no time for weakness, and he tucked a copy of a Quran inscribed with his name under their pillows and kissed them one last time. With a heart heavier than he could have imagined, he made his way down the hall and opened the door into his mothers room. She was asleep on her side, facing him, lit by a soft glow spilling from a night-light in her bathroom. Unknown to any of them, he had returned to the airline office three days earlier and changed his ticket to a 6 a.m. flight. Ever since seeing his mother in the mall, he had masked his feelings, but he wasnt sure he could continue to suppress them during the emotional turmoil of what only he knew would be a farewell party. He had told them he would be home in a month, but that wasnt true. In reality, he had no idea if they would ever see each other again. Looking at his mother now, he knew there was no easy way. Growing up in the desert, he had only ever seen fog once in his life. Early one morning, his father had woken him and they had watched a wall of white vapour, otherworldly, roll towards them across the Red Sea. Now the memories came towards him like that: her belly growing large with one of his sisters, his father hitting her hard across the mouth for disobedience, her lovely face dancing with laughter at one of his jokes. The rolling mass of human emotion hope to despair, childish love to bitter disappointment wrapped its strange tendrils around him until he was lost in its white, shifting universe. He would have remained adrift in tearful remembrance except for a distant muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. It meant dawn was breaking and he was already running late. He moved to the bed and bent close to the womans face, feeling her sleeping breath gentle on his cheek. They say that when men are dying in battle their fingers nearly always twist into the soil, trying to hold on to the earth and all the pain and love it holds. The boy didnt realize it but, had he looked down, he would have seen his fingers wrapping tight into the coverlet of his mothers bed. As he kissed her forehead he murmured a single word, something he had never said to her before: he spoke her name, as if she were his child. He pulled himself to his feet and backed out of the door, keeping his eyes on her for as long as possible. Quickly he grabbed his backpack, emerged into the new day and ran fast down the path lest the tears overwhelm him and make his feet follow his heart and turn him back. At the far end of the street, as arranged, a car was waiting. Inside were the imam and two leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood. They greeted him as he scrambled into the back seat, the driver slipped the vehicle into gear and it sped off to drop him at the airport. His mother woke two hours later, rising early to finish the arrangements for the party. In the kitchen she found a letter addressed to her. As she started reading it she felt as if cold water was rising up from the floor and crushing her lower body. She felt her legs go from under her, and she only just managed to find a chair before she fell. He told her in simple prose about seeing her in the mall with her shame in full flower, of how he was certain his sisters were complicit in her behaviour and that his only ambition had been to protect the women, exactly as his father would have wanted. As she read on, two pages in his best handwriting, she was taught a lesson many other parents have learned its usually your children who wound you the most ferociously. Finally she came to the last paragraph and realized she had been completely deceived by the imam. What she read destroyed the last strands of her tenuous control and she fell into a chasm of loss and guilt and terrible fear. Her son wrote that he was going to Quetta but there was no famous madrassah there, just a different type of camp hidden in the high mountains. There he would undergo six weeks basic training before being taken along an old smugglers route and over the border into the battlefield. He said he had never had any intention of following a religious life. Like any truly devout Muslim, he was going to Afghanistan to wage jihad against the Soviet invaders who were killing the children of Islam. Chapter Six DURING THE NINE years of the Afghan war, over a million people died. The Saracen wasnt one of them a fact which, given what he did later, would make most people question if not Gods existence then at least His common sense. After crossing the border, the Saracen fought the Soviets for two years until, one cold February night eighteen years old and grown tall and hard he stood on a ridge and looked down on a road that stretched all the way to Europe. Behind him a crescent moon cast its light across serried ranks of peaks and crags where another ten thousand battle-hardened mujahideen were also standing like sentinels. All of them had seen remarkable things how fast a Russian prisoner can dance when doused with gasoline and set on fire, what their own dead looked like with their genitals hacked off and stuffed in their mouths but on this, a night of a million stars, they might as well have been standing on the fifth ring of Saturn watching the Imperial Starfleet fly past. Nobody had seen anything like it. For forty miles along the wide valley below and according to reports on the Afghan military radio, for a hundred miles beyond that the two-lane blacktop was packed with low-loaders, trucks, and tank transporters. Every few miles fires were burning, lighting up the night like some Christo version of funeral pyres. As vehicles drew alongside the fires, the soldiers riding shotgun would toss out surplus material: snow suits, ration boxes, tents, first-aid kits. Now and again ammunition or flares would go in by mistake, sending the men on the vehicles diving, lighting up the sky like dismal fireworks, throwing one of the largest convoys ever seen on earth into blinding moments of sharp relief. The vehicles were heading towards the Amu Darya river and the border with Uzbekistan: the huge Soviet 40th Army the army of the Afghan occupation was pulling out, defeated. The Saracen, along with the other mujahideen, knew exactly why the Soviets had lost. It wasnt because of the rebels courage or Moscows determination to fight the wrong war. No, it was because the Soviets were without God: it was the mujahideens faith that had brought them victory. Allahu Akbar! a voice called from the top of one of the highest pinnacles. God is great. Ten thousand other voices took it up, shouting in reverence, listening to it echo. Allahu Akbar! on and on it went, raining down on the Soviets as they ran for home. Afghanistan, the graveyard of so many empires, had claimed another victim. Two weeks afterwards, twenty heavily armed men rode on horseback into the snow-swept village where the Saracen was camped with other battle-scarred foreign fighters. The leader of the visitors was called Abdul Mohammad Khan and, even in a time of giants, he was a legend. In his forties when the Soviets invaded, he took his clan to war, was led into a trap by two military advisers from another tribe, captured in a wild firefight and tortured in a Kabul prison to the point where even the Russian guards were sickened. He escaped during a bloody prison uprising and, holding his body together more by willpower than with bandages, made his way back to his mountain stronghold. Six months later, his health partly restored, he fulfilled the ambition which had sustained him throughout the hours of pummelling and electrodes in Kabul his fighters captured alive the two men who had betrayed him. He didnt torture them. Blocks of heavy steel were strapped to their backs, and they were laid naked face up in large moulds. Unable to stand, they thrashed with their arms and legs as they watched liquid concrete being poured into the moulds. Once it had covered their bodies and faces just enough to drown them, the concrete was stopped and allowed to set. The outline of their thrashing limbs and screaming faces were now captured for ever in the stone a grotesque bas-relief. The blocks containing the entombed men and their eternal attempt to escape were set in the wall of the fortresss luxurious meeting room, available for the enlightenment of anyone who came to visit Lord Abdul Mohammad Khan. Nobody ever betrayed him again. When he arrived at the freezing village with his military escort, he had already as a warlord without peer and a deeply devout man of faith appointed himself governor of the province. It was in that capacity he was travelling through his huge domain in order to thank the foreign fighters for their help and to arrange their repatriation. Throughout that long journey there was one man more than any other he wanted to meet. For two years he had heard stories of the Saracen, who had campaigned throughout the mountains with a forty-pound Blowpipe missile system on his back and an AK-47 over his shoulder. In the years of war which had followed the first Soviet tanks across the Afghan border, the Russians had lost over three hundred and twenty helicopters. Three of them, all fearsome Hind gunships, were taken out by the young Arab and his Blowpipe two in the very worst months of the war and one in the last week of the conflict. By any standard it was a remarkable achievement. Abdul Khan limping for ever thanks to his stay in what the Soviets affectionately called the Kabul Sports Club, his haggard and handsome face never far from a smile even when he was turning men into concrete sculptures held court before the assembled men and listened to their requests for everything from medical treatment to travel expenses. Only the Saracen standing at the back said nothing, wanted nothing, and the warlord admired him even more. After everyone had eaten dinner together in the villages communal kitchen, the governor motioned for the Saracen to join him alone in an alcove near the roaring fire. With the wind whipping up the valleys and howling all the way to China, the flurries of snow piling in drifts against the huddled houses, Abdul Khan served the tea himself and said he had heard that the young man was a deeply devout Muslim. The teenager nodded, and Khan told him that there was a religious scholar, a former mujahideen commander who had lost an eye in battle, who was setting up his own elite madrassah in the city of Kandahar. His students were all former fighters and, if the Saracen wished to study Islam in all its glory, then Governor Abdul Khan would be happy to meet the cost. The Saracen, sipping from his steel cup and dragging on one of the governors American cigarettes, had heard of Mullah Omar and his group of Taliban the Arabic word for a person seeking religious knowledge and, though he was flattered by the governors offer, he shook his head. Im going home, to the country where I was born, he said. To Jeddah? the governor asked, unable to mask his sharp surprise. On other nights, around other fires, he had heard men tell the story of the execution that had started the youth on his long road to jihad. No, Riyadh, he said, and the governor guessed now what he was talking about. Riyadh was the Saudi Arabian capital, the ruling seat of the king and the House of Saud. Youve heard what they did to my father? the young man asked, watching the older mans deep-set eyes. Men have spoken of it, the warlord replied quietly. So you understand I go to start the work of revenge. It was said without rancour or emotion, purely as a matter of fact. Even so, if most young men had said such a thing the governor would have laughed and offered them another one of his fine cigarettes. But most youths had never faced a Soviet Hind helicopter gunship in full rampage, not once, not even in their worst nightmares. Watching the Saracen, the governor wondered, not for the first time, if he himself could have found the courage armed with nothing more than a Blowpipe to have done it. Like everybody else in Afghanistan, he knew the missile was one of the worst pieces of shit ever invented, almost guaranteed to result in the death of anyone unfortunate enough to use it. Shoulder-fired, the four-foot missile used a manual-guidance system: in other words, you fired the missile and then used a joystick on a small radio box to steer it to the target. As if that wasnt dangerous enough, the missile made such a bright flash at launch that the intended victim, usually a helicopter, invariably saw it coming. Immediately, the crew on board would turn the craft, bringing their multi-barrelled machine guns and fifty-calibre cannons to bear. Firing a hailstorm of metal, the pilot would try to annihilate the operator and his joystick before he could steer the missile home. To be seventeen years old, alone, with no parent to bury you let alone protect you, to stand at sunset on a mountain scree in Afghanistan with only the long shadows to hide you, with shards of rock and bullets blasting past as hardened airmen unleash the dogs of hell, to stand in the eye of a twister with the world whirling and disintegrating all around, to hear the deafening roar of rotors and engines, the scream of machine gun and cannon as it approaches fast, to hold your ground, never to run or flinch and to work a joystick in the face of onrushing death, to count the endless seconds for a horse of the apocalypse to turn away in fear, to twist the stick and guide the warhead into the soft underbelly of its engine and feel the heat of the explosion then smell the death and burning flesh and realize suddenly it wasnt your own, not this time anyway well, there are not many men who can do that. Three times the Saracen played one of the deadliest games of chicken ever known, and three times he won. Lord Abdul Khan would never laugh at anything such a young man said. Stay, the warlord told him quietly. The Saudis will arrest you the moment you arrive. With your name and a history of jihad you wont get past the border. I know, the Saracen replied, pouring them both more tea. When I leave I go to Quetta a thousand dollars in the arms bazaar there buys a passport in any name you want. Maybe but be careful, most Pakistani forgers are shit. What nationality will you take? I dont care, anything thatll get me into Lebanon. Theres a medical school in Beirut thats one of the best. Abdul Khan paused. Youre going to study to be a doctor? He nodded. If Im no longer a Saudi, how else can I return to my country and live there? he said. Its closed to foreigners but not to doctors a foreign Muslim with a good medical degree is guaranteed a visa. It has one other advantage. The Mabahith wont spend time monitoring a doctor. Theyre supposed to save lives, arent they? Abdul Khan smiled but just kept looking at him. Itll take years, he said finally. A lifetime maybe. The Saracen smiled back. But I have no choice, I owe it to my father. I think thats why God kept me safe on the mountain to destroy the House of Saud. The governor sat in silence for a long while he had never thought the young fighter could do anything that would impress him more than facing down the Hinds. He had been wrong. He swirled the tea in his cup and finally raised it in salute he knew more about revenge than most men. To Saudi Arabia and vengeance then, he said. InshaAllah. InshaAllah, the Saracen replied. God willing. And for close to fifteen years that was the last word that passed between them; the governor and his escort left at dawn the next morning. Three weeks later, though, after the foreign fighters had struck their camp and were waiting for the last snowstorm of the year to pass, two of the governors young nephews dragged themselves into the village. They had been forced to turn their mounts loose in the blizzard and, while the horses made their way down to safer ground, the two youths climbed on through the storm. Unannounced, completely unexpected, they brought a small oilskin package with them for the Saracen, the legendary mujahideen who was only a little older than they were. Alone in the kitchen with him, they waited while he signed for its contents. Inside was a Lebanese passport in a false name not some bad fake bought in the bazaar in Quetta but a genuine book with every detail properly registered, traded by a corrupt Lebanese Embassy employee in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, for ten thousand US, cash. Equally importantly, it contained visas and permits that showed that the bearer had entered from India three years earlier in order to gain his high-school diploma from a respected international school. Tucked in the back was four thousand US dollars in well-used bills. There was no letter or explanation, there didnt need to be: it was like a properly maintained AK-47, a gift from one warrior whose war had finished to another whose campaign had just begun. With the spring melt starting, the Saracen started his long trek out of Afghanistan. As he walked the back roads, the signs of the wars destruction were everywhere: towns laid to waste, devastated fields, bodies in ditches. But already families were planting the most lucrative of all cash crops opium poppies. As he neared the Pakistani border he met the first of five million refugees returning to their homes, and from then on he swam against a rising tide of humanity. At the border all semblance of control had collapsed and, unnoticed, he crossed out of Afghanistan late on a cloudless afternoon a young man with a fake past, a false identity and a real passport. No wonder, when the time came, it took me so long to find him. As I said he was a ghost. Chapter Seven THE SARACEN MADE it down to Karachi by the first blast of the monsoon. The huge city sprawls along the Arabian Sea, and he used a few of his dollars to buy sleeping space on the deck of an old freighter heading out to Dubai. From there, a dozen airlines fly directly to Beirut and, a week later, the passport fulfilled all its expensive promise when he passed unchallenged through Lebanese immigration. Beirut was a disaster story in itself, half of it in ruins and most of its population wounded or exhausted. But that suited the Saracen the country was recovering from fifteen years of civil war, and a rootless man had no trouble passing for a native in a city full of shattered lives. He had always been a good student and, with six months hard work, helped by tutors he met at the citys most radical and intellectual mosque, he easily passed the next sitting of the college entrance exam. Like most students, the high cost of tuition was a problem, but fortunately he found a State Department scholarship programme which was aimed at rebuilding the nation and fostering democracy. The staff at the US Embassy even helped him fill in the forms. Flush with US aid money, the Saracen devoted the long days interrupted only by prayer and simple meals to the study of medicine; the nights to terror and revolution. He read all the big ones Mao, Che, Lenin and attended discussions and lectures by wild pan-Arab nationalists, Palestinian warmongers and several men who could best be described as Islamic cave dwellers. One of them, on a fund-raising visit, was forming an organization which translated as the law or the base al-Qaeda in Arabic. The Saracen had heard of this tall sheikh, a fellow Saudi, while he was fighting in Afghanistan but, unlike everybody else in the mosque that day, he made no attempt to impress Osama bin Laden with fiery rhetoric proof yet again that the quietest man in the room is usually the most dangerous. It was at another of these discussion groups, this one so small it was held in a dingy room normally used by the universitys stamp club, that he encountered an idea that would change his life. Ours, too, Im sad to say. Ironically because the guest speaker was a woman he almost didnt attend. She gave her name as Amina Ebadi although that was probably an alias and she was a political organizer in the huge Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza, home to over a hundred and forty thousand Palestinian refugees, one of the most deprived and radical square miles on earth. The subject of her talk was the humanitarian crisis in the camp, and a grand total of ten people showed up. But she was so accustomed to swimming against the tide of international indifference it didnt worry her one day, somebody would hear her, and that person would change everything. It was a brutally hot night and, in the midst of her address, she paused and took off her half-veil. There are so few of us, I feel like Im among family, she said, smiling. None of the tiny audience objected and, even if the Saracen had been inclined to do so, it took him long enough to recover from the sight of her face that the opportunity was lost. With only her serious voice to go by, he had drawn up a mental picture of her that was completely at variance with her large eyes, expressive mouth and flawless skin. Her tightly pulled-back hair lent her a boyish quality and while, individually, her features were far too irregular to be considered attractive, when she smiled everything seemed to coalesce and nobody could have ever convinced the Saracen that she wasnt beautiful. Although she was about five years his senior, there was something the shape of her eyes, her hunger for life that reminded him of the elder of his sisters. He hadnt had any contact with his family since the day he had left Bahrain, and a sharp wave of homesickness suddenly hit him. By the time he had ridden it out, the woman was saying something about the near enemies. Im sorry, he said. Could you repeat that? She turned her large eyes on the self-possessed young man, the one somebody had told her was a deeply devout medical student but who she guessed from the weather-beaten face was almost certainly a returned jihad warrior. She knew the type the Jabalia camp was full of muj veterans. Addressing him with the great respect he deserved, she said that nearly all the Arab worlds problems were caused by what could be called their near enemies: Israel, of course; the ruthless dictatorships scattered throughout the region; the corrupt feudal monarchies like Saudi Arabia who were in the pocket of the West. I hear all the time that if our near enemies are destroyed then most of the problems would be solved. I dont think its possible the near enemies are too ruthless, too happy to oppress and kill us. But they only survive and prosper because they are supported by the far enemy. A few forward thinkers wise people say that if you can defeat the far enemy, all the near enemies will collapse. Thats what I like about theories, the medical student replied, they always work. Its different if you have to try to implement them. Is it even possible to destroy a country as powerful as America? She smiled. As Im sure you know, the jihadists broke the back of an equally powerful nation in Afghanistan. The Saracen walked the five miles home in turmoil. He had never had a clear idea of how to bring down the House of Saud, and he had to admit there was a reason why all Saudi dissidents were based overseas: those who lived or travelled inside its borders were invariably informed upon and eliminated. Look at what had happened to his father. But never to enter the country and yet force the collapse of the Saudi monarchy by inflicting a grievous wound on the far enemy well, that was a different proposition! By the time he turned into the doorway of his tiny apartment he knew the way forward: while he might still become a doctor, he wasnt going back to Saudi Arabia. Again, he didnt know how to do it yet Allah would show him when the time was right but he was going to take the battle to the one place which loomed larger than any other in the collective Arab imagination. It would take years, on occasions the hurdles would seem insurmountable, but his long journey to mass murder had begun. He was going to strike at the heart of America. Chapter Eight TEN YEARS AFTER the saracens revelation and half a world away, I was on a sidewalk in Paris arguing with a stranger, a black guy with a limp. Lieutenant Bradley would end up holding my life in his hands but, in the short term, I was silently cursing him to hell. In telling me that he wanted to discuss my book, he had comprehensively destroyed all the layers of false identities I had so carefully constructed around myself. Seemingly unaware of the detonation he had caused, he was now explaining that an hour earlier he had arrived outside my apartment just in time to see a person who he thought was me get into a cab. He had grabbed his own taxi, followed me to the place de la Madeleine, circled the block trying to find me and, when that failed, had returned to the apartment to pick up the trail. It was he who had knocked on the door and, not sure whether I was inside or not, had decided to wait in the street to see if I turned up. I got the sense he thought this was all pretty amusing and I started to dislike him even more. As much as I wanted to blow him off, I couldnt I was scared. Hed found me and, if he could do it, so might someone else. The Greeks, for instance. Everything, my feelings included, had to be set aside until I found out how he had done it. Fancy a coffee? I said pleasantly. Yeah, hed like that, he said, volunteering to pay. That was a mistake. Given the part of Paris we were standing in, hed probably have to cash in his pension plan for an espresso and an eclair, but I wasnt in the mood to show any mercy. We started walking down rue Fran?ois 1er a few paces apart, in silence, but we hadnt gone more than five yards before I had to stop: Bradley was gamely trying to keep up, but the limp on his right leg was worse than I had realized. Birth defect? I asked. I can be fairly unpleasant when Im angry. Thats the other leg, he shot back. I got this one last year. Work or sport? I was having to walk with him, so it seemed unreasonable not to continue the conversation. Work. He paused fractionally. Lower Manhattan, ran into a building without thinking. Wasnt the first time Id done it, but this one was different lucky it didnt kill me. It was clear from his tone he didnt want to elaborate on the circumstances. Looks like your hip, I said, as we continued even more slowly, pretty sure I was right from the way he was rolling and what I remembered of my medical training. They replaced it with titanium and plastic. Said Id need a lot of physio but, shit, not eight months. A homicide cop, a destroyed hip, titanium pins to hold the bone together sounded like a large-calibre gunshot wound to me. He didnt volunteer anything else, and I have to say that, despite myself, I was warming to him theres nothing worse than cops with war stories. Except maybe spooks. We stopped at the lights, and I pointed at a limestone hotel with three new Rolls-Royce Phantoms parked in front of it. The Plaza Ath?n?e, I said. We can get a coffee there. Looks expensive, he replied, unaware that very soon he would understand the true meaning of that word. We went through the revolving door, across a marble foyer and into the hotels grand gallery. From there, tall doors opened on to one of the most beautiful courtyards in Paris. Totally enclosed, overlooked on all sides by bedrooms, its walls were covered in ivy. The balconies set among the greenery were shaded by red awnings, and guests could look down on a concert grand, elaborate topiaries, numerous Russian oligarchs and a variety of other Euro-trash. We took a table at the back, almost hidden from view, and the battered cop started to explain how he had deconstructed the legend of one of the worlds most secret agents. Though he didnt say it in so many words, it quickly became apparent that the injuries he had sustained when he ran into the building were far more serious than a smashed hip. One lung had collapsed another bullet, I guessed his spine had been injured and he had sustained a bad blow to his head, all of which added up to three weeks in intensive care. For the first week it was a near-run thing if hed survive, and Marcie wouldnt leave his side. Somehow, she and the physicians rolled the stone back from the cave and, eventually, he was released to the high-dependency unit. There it became clear that his ailments were more than physical. Whatever abyss he had looked into meant he barely talked and appeared to feel even less. Maybe it was fear, maybe it was cowardice, maybe there was someone he couldnt save he never explained but whatever it was hed encountered in that building meant hed left a lot of himself behind. I was alive, but I was a shadow of the person whod gone to work that day, he said quietly. The numbing, the emotional disconnection, was worse than any physical injury not just for me, for Marcie. Not even the love of his wife could turn his face towards the light, and I was certain, though he never used the term, that he was suffering from what was once called shell shock and was now termed post-traumatic stress disorder. After weeks of anti-anxiety drugs but little improvement, the doctors suggested that taking him home might offer the best chance of reconnecting him. They probably needed the bed. Marcie spent two days rearranging the apartment turning a corner of their bedroom into an area for his physiotherapy sessions and filling it with his favourite books, music and anything else she thought might engage him. It didnt work, he added. I had too much anger and a bad case of what the psychologists called survivor guilt. For the first time, I realized that others must have died during the incident a partner, I wondered, a couple of members of his team? In retrospect, I was pretty dumb about the whole situation but, in my defence, I had no time to consider any of it in detail he was hurrying on. He said that whatever hopes Marcie had of nursing him back to health with love were soon overwhelmed by the terrible toll mental illness can take on even a good relationship. Because he had been injured in the line of duty, she didnt have to worry about his medical bills and, after three soul-destroying weeks, she finally got the number of a highly regarded residential-care facility in upstate New York. In the bleakest hours, she wondered whether, once her husband had been admitted, he would ever come home again. Ive been to enough Narcotics Anonymous meetings to know it only takes about twenty minutes before somebody gets up and says they had to hit bottom before they could start the long climb out. So it was with Marcie. Sitting up late one evening, shed begun filling in the forms she had received that morning from the Wellness Foundation in Hudson Falls. With Ben asleep in the next room watching people die over and over in his dreams and a questionnaire taking her back through so many shared experiences, she found herself deeper in the canyons of despair than she had ever been. She didnt know it, of course, but she had finally found bottom. One question asked what personal items the patient would enjoy having with them. Nothing really, she answered what was the point, she had tried providing all of that. As she was about to continue, she stared at the word and a strange thought took hold. Nothing, she said quietly. Marcie was a smart woman a teacher at a charter high school in New York and, like most women, she had thought a lot about love. She knew, even in marriage, if you advanced too far to please the other person it let them edge away, and you ended up always laughing and fighting and screwing on their territory. Sometimes you had to stand your ground and make them come to you just to keep the equilibrium. She turned and looked at the bedroom door. She knew she had done so much to try to restore her husbands mental health that the equilibrium was way out of line. Maybe the trick was to make him emerge from the deep cell hed built and edge back towards her. When Ben woke seven hours later from his drug-assisted sleep, he thought he was in the wrong life. This wasnt the bedroom he and Marcie shared, this wasnt the room he had closed his eyes on. Yes, the doors and windows were in the same place, but all the things that individuated it, that made it his and Marcies space, were gone. There were no photographs, no paintings and no mess on the floor. The TV had gone and even the kilim they both loved had silently disappeared. Apart from the bed and some physio equipment there was, well nothing. As far as he could see, it was the white room at the end of the universe. Confused about where he really was, he swung off the bed and, hobbling from his smashed thigh, crossed the room. He opened the door and looked into a parallel universe. His wife was in the kitchen, trying to hurry up her coffee. Bradley watched her in silence. In the twenty years they had been together, she had grown ever more beautiful in his eyes. She was tall and slim with simply cut hair that accentuated the fine shape of her face but which, more importantly, seemed to say she didnt care much about her own good looks. That, of course, was the only way to handle such a gift, and it made her appear even more attractive. Looking at her in the midst of the home they loved gave him a terrible catch in his throat. He wondered if he was being shown what he had left behind; maybe he had never got out of the building and was already dead. Then Marcie realized he was there and smiled at him. Bradley was relieved he was pretty certain people who saw a dead guy in their bedroom doorway didnt act like that. Not Marcie, anyway, who didnt care much for Halloween and had a deep aversion to graveyards. For the first time in months Marcies spirits ticked higher: the new strategy had at least made him come to the cell door and look out. Another minute and Im leaving for work Ill be back in time to get dinner, she said. Work? he queried, trying to get his mind around the idea. She hadnt been to work since he was injured. She said nothing if he wanted answers, he was going to have to work for them. He watched her jam a piece of toast in her mouth, grab her travel cup of coffee and head out the door with a small wave. It left Bradley marooned in the doorway, so, after a moment of silence and unable to keep the weight on his strapped leg, he did the only thing he thought sensible he left the parallel world and went back into the white room. He lay down but, try as he might, he couldnt think clearly about what was happening with so many psychoactive drugs in his body. In silence, alone in the decaying morning, he decided the only practical thing to do was to wean himself off them. It was a dangerous but crucial decision at last he was taking responsibility for his own recovery. Despite her promise, Marcie didnt fix him dinner that night; he was in a fitful sleep so she decided to leave him be. Instead of a meal tray, she placed a new hardcover book on his bedside table, hoping that, with nothing else to occupy him, he would eventually pick it up. The idea for the book had come to her that morning, and immediately after school she had hurried down to a store near Christopher Street. It was called Zodiac Books, but it had nothing to do with astrology it was named after a serial killer in Northern California whose exploits had spawned a one-maniac publishing industry. Marcie had never been inside Zodiac she only knew of it from Ben so when she climbed the set of steep stairs she was amazed to enter a space as big as a warehouse, stacked with the greatest repository of books about crime, forensic science and investigation in the world. She explained to the ageing owner behind his desk what she was looking for technical, factual, something to engage a professional. The owner was six foot seven and looked more like he belonged in the backwoods than in a bookshop. A former FBI profiler, he slowly unfurled himself and led her past shelves coated with dust and into a row of books and periodicals marked New Releases. Some of them must have been forty years old. From a small carton on the floor, newly arrived from the publisher, he lifted out a buff-coloured doorstop of a book. You told me hes sick, the Sequoia said, opening the highly technical material to show her. Fifty pages of this should finish him off. Seriously, she said, is it any good? He smiled, swept his hand around the room. Might as well throw the rest away. As a result, the book which I had spent so many months writing ended up sitting on Bradleys bedside table. He saw it when he woke early the next morning but made no move towards it. It was a Saturday, and when Marcie brought his breakfast in he asked her about it. Whats it for? I thought you might find it interesting look at it if you want, she said, trying not to put any pressure on him. He didnt glance at it, turning instead towards his food. Throughout the day, every time she came in to check on him, her disappointment grew. The book hadnt been touched. She didnt know, but Bradley had been in a turmoil of his own since the moment he woke, coming down off the drugs, a jack-hammer of a headache splitting his skull as his body adjusted, a kaleidoscope of thoughts all let loose, making him remember when he didnt even want to think. By the time she was fixing dinner, Marcie had given up hope. With no sign of interest in the book from her husband she found the forms from the Wellness Foundation and started rehearsing how she was going to tell him it would be best if he went back to hospital. She couldnt come up with any way of spinning it so that it didnt sound like a defeat, and she knew it might shatter him. But she had run out of mental highway and, close to tears, she opened the door into the bedroom and braced herself for the imminent wreck. He was sitting up in bed, thirty pages into my book, sweating hard, face etched with pain. God knows what effort it had taken for him to get that far, but he knew it was important to Marcie. Every time she came in, she couldnt stop her eyes sliding to the book. Marcie stared, frightened she was going to drop the tray, but decided that by even acknowledging the event she might scare him back into the cell, so she just continued normally. Its bullshit, he said. Oh God. Her soaring spirits nosedived, ready for another one of his episodes of wild anger. Im sorry, the man in the shop told me she replied. No, not the book the books fantastic, he said irritably. I mean the author. Call it intuition, call it what you like, hes not FBI. I know those guys they dont work the frontier. This guy is something special. He motioned her closer, indicating where hed marked things he had found arresting. And she never remembered seeing any of it, stealing glances at her husband, wondering if his spark of engagement would light a fire or whether as with people she had read about who emerged from comas it would die quickly and he would sink back into the void. He took the dinner napkin off the tray and used it to wipe the sweat from his face. It gave Marcie a chance to leaf back to the beginning of the book. She stopped at the few lines of biography, but a picture of the author was conspicuous by its absence. Who is he, then? she asked. Who do you think Jude Garrett really is? No idea. Im hoping hell make a mistake and tell us by accident, he said. All through the weekend, to Marcies relief, the fire kept blazing. She sat on the bed as he ploughed through the pages reading out slabs to her, arguing ideas back and forth. And as he went deeper, continually thinking about the science of investigation, he was forced to consider the one crime he had tried so hard to forget. Fragments of what had happened in the building kept floating to the surface of his mind, dragging the breath and the sweat out of him. On Sunday night, seemingly out of nowhere, the words overtopped the dam and he told her that at one point he was trapped in what felt like a concrete tomb and that it had been so dark he hadnt been able to see the face of the dying man he was with. He started to cry as he said that all he had been able to do was to try to catch his last words a message for his wife and two young kids and for the first time, as her husband cried in her arms, Marcie thought everything might be okay. Slowly, he went back to reading, and Marcie stayed with him every word of the way. Hours later, Bradley said he thought the author was too smart he wasnt accidentally going to reveal his identity. Jokingly, he told her the test of any great investigator would be to discover who the guy really was. They turned and looked at one another. Without a word, Marcie went into the next room and got her laptop. From that moment on, discovering my identity became their project, their rehabilitation, the renewal of their love story. And for me? It was a disaster. Chapter Nine NINETEEN WORDS. SITTING in the plaza Ath?n?e, not admitting to anything, Id asked Bradley what had made him think the author was in Paris, and thats what he told me. Out of a total of three hundred and twenty thousand words in the book, nineteen fucking words had given my secret away. Seven of them, he said, were an attempt by the author to describe the different colours of decaying blood. I remembered the passage exactly: I had compared the shades to a particular type of tree I had seen change from bright red to brown every fall of my childhood. So what? Checking every detail, Bradley said he called a professor of botany and asked him about the tree. Apparently, they were unique to the Eastern Seaboard and I had unwittingly identified at least the general area where I grew up. The other twelve words, two hundred pages later, concerned a murder weapon: the stick used to play lacrosse, something which I said I recognized because I had seen students at my high school with them. Bradley told me that if you call the US Lacrosse Association you will learn there are one hundred and twenty-four high schools on the Eastern Seaboard which offer it as a sport. They were getting closer. By then Marcie had located Garretts cousin living in New Orleans and learned that the guys reading extended to four letters: ESPN. The cousin said that Garrett had graduated high school in 1986, and Bradley guessed, from two references in the book, that the real author was from the same era. He called the one hundred and twenty-four high schools which played lacrosse and, as an NYPD detective, requested the names of all male students who had graduated between 1982 and 1990 expanding the search, just to be on the safe side. Very soon, he had a long list of names but one which he felt sure included the identity of the real author. Working through it would have been overwhelming except they were mostly private schools and they were always looking for donations to increase their endowment. The best source of money was former students, and there were not many databases better than an alumni association with its hand out. They had extensive records of all their former pupils, and Bradley combed through pages of lawyers and Wall Street bankers, looking for anything out of the ordinary. He had nothing to show for his trouble until, one night, in the names from a school called Caulfield Academy, he and Marcie came across a person called Scott Murdoch. He had graduated high school in 87, Bradley told me, biting into the worlds most expensive eclair. He was accepted to Harvard, studied medicine and got a doctorate in psychology. A great career lay ahead of him, but then nothing. The alumni association had no address, no work history, no news. From the minute he graduated they knew less about him than anyone else. He had simply disappeared. Of everyone we looked at, he was the only one like that. He glanced up to see what I was thinking. I didnt speak, I was too preoccupied it was strange hearing the name Scott Murdoch after so many years. Sometimes in the worst moments of the secret life, when I was both judge and executioner I wondered what had happened to that person. After a long silence, Bradley soldiered on. Following weeks of research, Harvard told me that Dr Murdoch took a job at Rand they knew because he was recruited on campus and they found a record of it. But here was the strange part: Rand was certain it had never heard of him. So were the professional associations, licensing boards and all the other organizations we contacted. As far as we could tell, when Dr Scott Murdoch left Harvard, he walked off the face of the earth. Where did he go? we asked ourselves. A chill which had started at the base of my spine was spreading fast. They had unearthed Scott Murdoch and they knew that he had vanished. That was a fine piece of work, but not half as good, I suspected, as what was coming. We had an address for Scott Murdoch from his years at high school, Bradley continued. So we headed out to Greenwich, Connecticut. I spoke to somebody through an intercom, told em it was the NYPD, and the gates swung open. I looked up at him wondering what he and Marcie, a couple struggling to get by in Manhattan, must have felt when they drove up the endless drive of my childhood home, past the ornamental lake and the stables, and stopped at what has been described as one of the ten most beautiful houses in the country. Coincidentally, Bradley answered my question. We never knew houses like that existed in America, he said quietly. The current owner, a well-known corporate raider, told them that both the elderly Murdochs were dead. I heard they only had one kid, he said. No, I have no idea what became of him. Must be loaded, thats all I can say. The next day, the two investigators searched the registry of deaths and found the entries for Bill and Grace. We even spoke to a few people whod been at both funerals, Bradley said. They all told us Scott wasnt at either one of em. It was obvious from his tone he thought that was the strangest part of all, but I had no intention of telling him that I would have done everything possible to attend Bills funeral if only I had known about it. I think Bradley knew he had hit a nerve, but I figured he was a decent man because he didnt pursue it. Instead he told me that, by then, they were confident Scott Murdoch was their man. Two days later, we knew for sure. Apparently, he and Marcie had sent my social security number or at least the one I had at Caulfield Academy and Harvard to Washington for extensive checking. They wanted to know where it was issued, had it ever been replaced and a list of other details which might give a clue to Dr Murdochs whereabouts. When the answer came back it was alarmingly brief: no such number had ever been issued. I sat in silence. Some back-office idiot in The Division had screwed up monumentally. I knew instantly what had happened. Years ago when I took on a new identity, ready to go into the field for the first time, a special team had eliminated my old name and history. They closed bank accounts, cancelled credit cards and expunged passports sanitizing anything that would tie a covert agent back into his former identity. The agent was supposed to have drifted off overseas, like many young people do, and disappeared. One of the clean-up team either overzealous or poorly supervised must have decided it would be even more effective to eliminate my former social security number. They could have told social security I had died, they could have let the number lie fallow, they could have done a hundred different things, but the one thing they should never have done was ask for it to be eliminated. That mistake led to the situation I was now facing a kid in Connecticut had an identifying number that, according to the government now, had never been issued. You didnt have to be Bradley to work out something strange was going on. I figured to have a social security number vanish into a black hole, it had to be done by the CIA or something like that, the cop said. It confirmed what he had started to suspect: although many details were altered in the book, the cases it dealt with were from the secret world. An evening which had started out as a pleasant rendezvous with a pliant doctor had turned into a disaster and was rapidly getting worse the book had led Bradley to Scott Murdoch and convinced him that he was the same person as Jude Garrett. Now he knew what sort of work I did. But how bad was it really? I asked myself. Very bad, the agent in me replied. I figured this might be my last night in Paris. With no time to waste, I spoke to him with a quiet ruthlessness. Times short, Lieutenant. Answer me this. So you think Garrett is a spy but the man could have been anywhere in the world. What made you look in Europe? The school, he said. The school? How the hell would Caulfield Academy know I had been stationed in Europe? When we visited the campus, some of the faculty remembered him. Weird kid, they said, refused to speak in class but brilliant with languages especially French and German. If he was working for some black government agency, I figured they wouldnt send him to South America, would they? Maybe not, I answered, but there are 740 million people in Europe and you end up in Paris? Come on someone told you where to find him, didnt they? That was every agents real nightmare. Betrayal, either accidental or deliberate, was what killed most of us. The cop stared, disgusted anyone would think that his abilities were so limited. It was a damn lot harder than a tip-off. He said that after months of searching for Scott Murdoch, and convinced that the guy was working for an intelligence agency, he realized he had to look for him under a different name. If Murdoch was a US covert agent, how would somebody like that enter a foreign country? He guessed that the best and safest method would be to assume the identity and job of a minor government employee a junior trade analyst, a commercial attach? or something similar. Because Bradleys father had worked in Washington, he knew all such appointments were recorded in a variety of obscure government publications. The announcements usually included information like education, age, professional history, zip codes, birth dates and other seemingly unimportant details. Lying awake one night, he tried to imagine what it would be like to keep assuming new identities, under stress at every border, struggling to keep an endless list of lies straight in your head with never time to think, just to answer. He knew if it was him, even to have a chance, he would have to populate the fake identities with easily remembered facts a phone number from childhood, a genuine birth date with the year changed, the real first names of parents. You get the drift, he said as we sipped our coffee, a universe away from the razor-wire at a checkpoint on the Bulgarian border, being questioned by some thug in a uniform, his breath reeking of cigarettes and last nights dinner, turning your documents over in his hand, throwing questions at you out of left field, alert for any hesitation, only too happy to make a hero of himself and call out to the unshaven Vopos that he didnt believe this American or Briton or Canadian or whatever you happened to be masquerading as at that time in that place on that day. Yeah, I got his drift, but I was too shaken to reply. Armed only with his intelligence, Bradley had divined exactly how covert agents entered a country and how they controlled the endless detail on which their lives might depend. In all honesty, I was finding it hard to remain angry with someone I was coming to admire so much. Bradley said he discussed his theory with Marcie and they decided to experiment. From all the information they had compiled on Scott Murdochs early life, they assembled a list of twenty minor facts. While she went to work, he spent the day at his computer downloading the last ten years editions of one of the publications which recorded government appointments the weekly Federal Register. One evening, he and Marcie entered the facts into a search robot and, hoping to find a match for any of them, turned it loose on the registers huge number of announcements. Thirty-six hours later they had three hits. One was the zip code of Greenwich, Connecticut used by a man appointed as a US delegate to the International Arts Council in Florence and which may or may not have meant something. Another concerned a trade attach? who had played squash at Harvard, just like Scott Murdoch, and looked very promising until they realized they were reading his obituary. The third was someone called Richard Gibson, a US observer at a meeting of the World Meteorological Organization in Geneva. His mini-biography included a birth date the same as Scott Murdochs and a summary of his education. His high school was given as Caulfield Academy. We searched the alumni records, but nobody called Richard Gibson had ever been at Caulfield, Bradley said quietly. It was a remarkable achievement. He and Marcie, starting with nothing more than the name of a tree in Connecticut, had found Richard Gibson, the cover I had used to enter Geneva for my chat with Markus Bucher at Richeloud and Cie. The name Gibson was the proof of principle now they were certain that the method worked, they went at it full tilt. Three weeks later the system identified a minor official working at the US Treasury who had gone to Romania for a conference. The name the man was using was Peter Campbell. I called the Romanian Finance Department and found a guy who had helped organize the event. He had a copy of Peter Campbells entry visa, including his passport details. A buddy at Homeland Security ran a check and found the same passport had been used to enter France. The French government said Campbell hadnt just entered the country, he had applied for residency in Paris. On his application, he said he was the manager of a hedge fund, so Marcie called the Securities and Exchange Commission. Nobody named Peter Campbell had ever held a securities trading licence and the hedge fund didnt exist. I watched in silence as Bradley reached into his jacket, took out two pieces of paper and laid them on the table. The first was a page from an old high-school yearbook showing a photo of the four members of the Caulfield Academy squash team. One teenager stood apart as if he played with the team but wasnt part of it. His face and name were circled: Scott Murdoch. The second piece of paper was a passport photograph attached to the French residency application in the name of Peter Campbell. There was no doubt that the two photos were of the same person. Me. I didnt say anything. So this is how I figure it, Bradley said. Scott Murdoch went to Caulfield Academy, studied at Harvard and joined a government black programme. He became a covert agent, used a hundred different names, and one of them was Campbell I kept staring down at the yearbook photo, trying to recall the members of the squash team. One guy was called Dexter Corcoran a big creep; everybody hated him, I remembered that. The others even bigger assholes I couldnt even remember who they were. Deliberate suppression, a psychologist would have called it. Maybe Dr Murdoch was thrown out of the secret world or his soul just got tired of it I dont know, Bradley was saying. But he entered France on Campbells passport, wrote a book to pass on what he knew and published it under the name of Jude Garrett, a dead FBI agent. When I still didnt respond, he shrugged. And so the two of us end up here. Yes, and there was no doubt about it: it was a brilliant piece of work by Bradley and his wife but like I said it was their discovery today, somebody elses tomorrow. There was only one thing left for me to do, so I stood up. It was time to start running. Chapter Ten BRADLEY CAUGHT UP with me at the doors leading from the hotels beautiful courtyard into the grand gallery, moving surprisingly fast, given his limp. I had said a curt goodbye and headed out, but he managed to grab my arm before I knew he was following. I have a favour to ask, he said. Thats why Marcie and I came to Paris. I shook my head. Ive got to go, I said. Listen please He took a breath, struggling with what he was about to say. But I didnt give him a chance. I pushed his hand away and started to leave. No, he said, in that authoritative voice. I looked around and saw that people at the nearby tables were watching us. I didnt want to create a scene and it gave him a moment. Go down deep enough into darkness and nothings ever the same, he said quietly. Being injured made me think differently about life, my relationship with Marcie and my work. Especially my work. If there was one positive Id had enough. Im sorry, I said, the injury must have been terrible and Im glad you came through okay, but there are things Ive got to arrange. I didnt have time for a sob story or to hear reflections on life from a man I would never see again. I was getting out of Paris, running for cover and maybe my life, and I didnt have time to waste. Just one minute one more, he said. After a beat I sighed and nodded I suppose I owed him some small courtesy for telling me how my former life could be laid bare so effectively. But I didnt bother moving, and everything about my body language told him the Wailing Wall was in Jerusalem and to just get it over with. You never asked about how I got my injuries and I want to thank you. Professionals usually dont, of course. Most of us have been in bad situations so theres not much point in talking about it. Yeah, yeah enough about correct professional conduct. What do you want to ask me? I thought. I told you I was trapped in a building. It was a little more than that I was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center when it went down. Chapter Eleven BRADLEY KEPT TALKING but, to this day, I have no idea what he said. Somehow we returned to our table, but I was too preoccupied with cursing my stupidity to listen. No wonder he had post-traumatic stress disorder, no wonder he had weeks in intensive care, no wonder he was suffering from survivor guilt, no wonder he needed an impossible investigative project to bring him back from the dead. Bradley had said he was holding some guy in the dark, listening to him die. Meanwhile, outside their concrete tomb, Lower Manhattan was on fire. And yet I was so smart I had worked out it was a gunshot wound to the hip and another one that took out his lung. If that was the best I could do, it was probably a good thing that I had retired. I was shaken from my harsh self-appraisal by his voice hed taken his cellphone out and was asking me something. Mind if I make a call? I want to check in with Marcie. I nodded. He waited for her to answer, turned away, and said a few brief words I couldnt hear. As he hung up, he motioned for more coffee and pastries. I hoped he had a credit card with no limit. I only mentioned September eleventh, he said, because its the basis for what I want to ask you. Go on, I said softly, trying to make up for even thinking the poor mother should have gone to the Wailing Wall. As part of my recovery, I finally went back to Ground Zero, to the spot where the North Tower had stood, he said. I looked at it for a long time God, it was cold and I finally realized that I was so damned angry I had no hope of ever making a full recovery. But I wasnt angry at the hijackers they were already dead. And it wasnt because of the injuries I had received cmon, I was alive. I was angry about injustice about the uncaring way the world works. I knew a lot of ordinary people had died that day not because of fire or falling masonry but because of their compassion. It was their desperate attempts to save other human beings often total strangers that had ended up costing them their own lives. He took a sip of coffee, but I knew he didnt want it. He was buying time, trying to work out how best to go on. I just waited. To my mind, hed earned the right to take as long as he needed. Ever think about how many disabled people were working in the Twin Towers that day? he asked finally. No, it never crossed my mind either, he continued, not until just after the planes hit. Of course, if you were in a wheelchair your problems were far worse than anyones it wasnt as if you could try to get out by elevator. Thats one thing we all know, isnt it? Those signs are always warning us to use the stairs. But say you cant walk? If I ever get trapped in a burning building, Mr Campbell, all I ask is that I can use my legs. Just an even chance to run or die. Thats not asking much, is it? An even chance. There was a guy he was working for a financial-services company who had listened to all the fire drills and knew where his evacuation chair was. Ever seen one of those? Its like an aluminium dining chair with long handles that stick out front and back so people can lift and carry you. He was a paraplegic, and I suppose he was proud hed overcome his disability and had a job. Might have had a wife and kids too, you never know. September eleventh was the first day of school, and a lot of people were late. It meant he was alone in his corner of the North Tower when the American Airlines plane hit. The impact jumped his wheelchair halfway across the room. Through the window, he saw a blast of flame arcing into the sky and he knew he had to move fast or he was dead. He found his evacuation chair, balanced it on his lap and headed for the emergency stairs. On the way he got drenched the sprinklers came on and with it the lights gave out. He got out into the elevator lobby, but there were no windows so it was dark. It was the building-maintenance guys who gave him a chance. A few years back, they had used glow-in-the-dark paint on the emergency doors so that in a disaster people could still find them. God knows how many lives the decision saved that day. He propped open the door into Stairway A with his wheelchair and positioned his evacuation chair inside. He wasnt a strong guy, but he transferred himself across. Immobilized now, he sits in an emergency stairway inside a burning building and does the only thing he can. He waits. There are three emergency staircases in the North Tower. Two are forty-four inches wide, the other is fifty-six inches. Its a big difference in the wide one two people can pass each other and its not as tight on the turns. Those turns would be critical for anyone trying to carry what is really a stretcher with a seat. As you can imagine, fate being a bitch, the paraplegic guy is on one of the narrow staircases. All through the building people are deciding which way to run towards the ground or up to the roof for a helicopter rescue. Those that go up die the door on to the roof is locked to prevent suicides. Stairway A is full of dust, smoke, people and water. Like a fast-running stream, it pours down the steps from overworked sprinklers and busted pipes. But the guy in the evacuation chair doesnt call out, doesnt ask for help. He just waits. For a miracle, I guess. Bradley paused, thinking about miracles, I suppose. For a moment, as he started speaking again, there was a tremor in his voice, but he managed to control it. A long way below, some middle-aged, not very fit, guy hears about the man in the chair and starts yelling. He wants volunteers to go back up with him and help carry him down. Three men step forward. Ordinary guys. They follow the middle-aged man up the stairs, pick up an end of the chair each and choose the right way they dont go up, they carry him down. Through the crush of people, the smoke, the water and those corners that were too fucking tight. He paused again. They carried him down for sixty-seven floors! And you know what they found when they got to the bottom? No way out. It had taken them so long that the collapse of the South Tower next door had destabilized its neighbour. Ahead of them was just fallen concrete. Behind them was the fire. Bradley shrugged. I remained silent. What was there to say, even if I could trust my voice not to falter? Sorrow floats was all I could think of. They turned back, reached a door on to a mezzanine and got in to the lobby. A short time later, everything went to hell when the building crashed down. The wheelchair guy and two of the rescuers somehow made it to safety, but two of those who saved him didnt. He paused for a moment. You know what took their lives, Mr Campbell? Compassion? I said. Thats right, like I told you it wasnt the falling masonry or the fire that killed them. It was their goddamned attempt to help somebody else. That was where my anger came from. Where was the justice in that? He caught his breath for a moment before saying softly, I wasnt sure I wanted to live in a world like that. I knew then that Bradley had visited Ground Zero in more ways than one. I pictured him in the snow at dusk, a tiny figure in the acres of emptiness where the Twin Towers had once stood, doing his best to find a reason for living. Thankfully, Marcie was with him, and he said they held hands as he told her about his despair. So what are you going to do about it? she wanted to know, totally matter-of-fact. He told me he looked at her in confusion, no idea what she meant. Yes, I got it, Ben, you dont want to live in a world like that, she said. Okay. But as people say are you gonna curse the darkness or light a candle? So let me ask you again: what are you going to do about it? That was Marcie she had become so tough, she wasnt surrendering an inch any more. She was right, of course, Ben continued. And we talked about what to do all the way home. Because of my injuries, I didnt know much about the 9/11 investigation, and as we walked uptown I listened as she told me fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were Saudis, how bin Ladens family were spirited out of the country in the aftermath, that most of the perpetrators were in America on expired visas and several of em had learned to fly planes but hadnt shown any interest in landing them. It became clear that, even though the hijackers had made scores of mistakes, they were still better than us and if anyone doubted it, there were three thousand homicides on my turf that proved it. By the time we reached the Village I realized that an idea was taking shape. I worked on it through the night, and the following day a Monday I went to New York University and lit my candle. He said that, in a large office facing Washington Square, he explained to the college executives that he wanted to start an event that would become as famous in its way as the World Economic Forum in Davos an annual series of lectures, seminars and master classes for the worlds leading investigators. A place where new ideas would be exposed and cutting-edge science displayed. He said it would be moderated by the top experts in their field, crossing all disciplines and agency boundaries. I pointed through the window, Bradley told me, to where the Twin Towers had stood. Men like thatll come again, I said, and next time theyll be better, smarter, stronger. We have to be too all of us who are investigators have got one clear objective: weve got to beat them next time. There were eleven people in the room and I figured Id won over three of em, so I told the story of the guy in the wheelchair and I reminded them that they were the closest college to Ground Zero they had a special responsibility. If they werent going to stage it, who would? By the end, half of em were ashamed, a few were in tears and the vote in support was unanimous. Maybe next year Ill run for mayor. He tried to laugh, but he couldnt find it in his heart. He said the arrangements for the World Investigative Forum were going better than he had expected, and he rattled off a list of names of those who had agreed to teach or attend. I nodded, genuinely impressed. He said, Yeah, its all the big ones, and then looked at me. Except one. He didnt give me a chance to reply. Your book has had a huge effect, he continued. Being over here, you probably dont realize, but theres hardly an A-list profess Thats why you came to Paris, I said, to recruit me? Partly. Of course, I came to finally solve the mystery of Jude Garrett but, now that I have, heres a chance for you to make a contribution. I know we cant say who you really are, so I thought you could be Garretts long-time researcher. Dr Watson to his Holmes. Someone who helped Shut up, I said something he probably wasnt used to hearing. I was staring at the table and, when I looked up, I spoke low enough to ensure it was for his ears only. Right now, I said, Im gonna break all the rules of my former profession Im going to tell you the truth about something. This is probably the only time youll ever hear it from someone in my line of work, so listen carefully. You did a remarkable job in finding me. If I ever did another edition of the book, I would include your work for sure. It was brilliant. He sort of shrugged flattered, I think, really proud, but too modest to express it. You found a lot of names, unravelled a lot of cover stories, but you didnt find out anything about what I actually did for my country, did you? Thats true, Bradley replied. Im not sure I wanted to. I figured anything that secret was best left alone. Youre right about that. So let me tell you. I arrested people, and those I couldnt arrest I killed. At least three times I arrested them first and then I killed them. Jesus, he whispered. Our country does that? I think homicide detectives and judges have a name for it, dont they? I can tell you, though, those sort of actions can weigh heavily on a mans spirit especially as he gets older. One thing I can promise you: nobody could ever accuse me of discrimination. I was ecumenical in my work I took down Catholics and Arabs, Protestants, atheists and at least a few Jews. The only ones who seemed to miss out were the Zoroastrians. Believe me, I would have included them too if I knew exactly who they were. Trouble is, a lot of the people I hurt their friends and family, mostly arent active practitioners of what you and I might call Christian principles, Mr Bradley. Specifically, they dont care too much for the bit about turning the other cheek. You know the Serbs? Theyre still angry about a battle they lost in 1389. Some people say the Croats and Albanians are worse. To people like that a few decades hunting me wouldnt even count as a weekend. Im telling you this so that you can understand I came to Paris to live in anonymity. Ive been trying to reach for normal. Tonight hasnt exactly been good news, so I wont be running any workshop, Im running for my life. I got up and held out my hand. Goodbye, Mr Bradley. He shook hands, and this time made no attempt to stop me. The courtyard had emptied and Bradley cut a forlorn figure sitting alone among the candles as I made my way out. Good luck, I called back. The seminars a great idea, the country needs it. I turned to continue on my way and came face to face with a woman. She smiled: I take it from the look on my husbands face the answer was no. It was Marcie. Bradley must have told her where we were when he phoned her. Youre right, I said. I cant take part he knows why. Thank you for giving him the time, though, she responded quietly. For spending so long listening to him. There was no resentment or anger her only concern seemed to be her husbands welfare. I liked her instantly. Bradley turned away from watching us and tried to attract the waiters attention, calling for the bill. You know, Ben admires you tremendously, Marcie said. I dont suppose he told you, but he read the book three times just for pleasure. He always says he wishes he could have done half the things you wrote about. For a moment I glimpsed a different Bradley a top-flight investigator who believed he had never played in a league big enough to match his talent. More than most people, I knew that professional regret was a terrible thing to live with and, as often happened, I started thinking about two little girls and what I did in Moscow a long time ago. Marcie had to touch my arm to break me out of the alley of my memories, and I saw she was handing me a business card. Its our number in New York. If you ever get a chance, call him I dont mean now, some time in the future. She saw my reluctance and smiled. A few years would be fine. But still I didnt take it. Hes a good man, she said seriously. The best Ive known; better than most people could ever imagine. It would mean a lot to him. Of course I knew I would never call but it seemed so unnecessarily hurtful not to take it that I nodded. As I was putting it in my pocket, Bradley turned back, and he and Marcies eyes met for a moment across the silent courtyard. In that unguarded second, neither of them aware that I was watching, I saw them stripped of their social armour. They were no longer in Paris, nowhere near a five-star hotel; I saw in their faces they were exactly where they had been before and after the North Tower fell in love. They werent kids, it certainly wasnt infatuation, and it was good to know that in a world full of trickery and deceit something like that still existed. Maybe the evening hadnt been a complete bust after all. The moment passed, Marcie looked back at me and I said goodbye. I went through the tall doors and paused at the lectern where the courtyards ma?tre d stood in judgement. He knew me well enough and after I thanked him for his hospitality I asked him to send the trolley over one more time and gave him two hundred euro to cover the bill. I have no idea why I paid. Just stupid, I guess.
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