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Inheritance

 

 

 

K2

Book 1

 

 

 

 

Geoff Wolak

 

www.geoffwolak-writing.com


Glossary of abbreviations

 

P-26/P-27 - Swiss secret sleeper armies

UNA - Swiss Military Intelligence

MI6 - British Intelligence, aka, SIS - Secret Intelligence Service, for overseas operations (non-domestic), aka, ‘Circus’.

MI5 - British Intelligence (domestic)

CIA - Central Intelligence Agency, USA, overseas intelligence service<= /span>

SAS - Special Air Service, British Special Forces

SBS - Special Boat Squadron, British, similar to US Navy Seals<= /p>

DOD - Department of Defense - USA

MOD - Ministry of Defence - UK

NSA - National Security Agency, USA, aka ‘No such agency’.        =       

SOE - Special Operations Executive, British WWII covert operations OSS - USA, like SOE, WWII, overseas

DGSE - French Secret Service/counter terrorism - domestic and foreign=

IRA - Irish Republican Army, terrorist movement

ETA - Spanish/Basque separatist/terrorist movement

Red Brigade - Italian communist/terrorist/crime gang

KGB - Soviet Intelligence, prior to 1990s.

NAAFI - Navy Army Air Force Institute - shops on British military bases.

SIB - British Military Police

BKA - Federal German Police, similar to FBI

SVR - Russian Intelligence, formerly KGB

Special Branch - British Police, anti-terrorism/organized crime

Wehrmacht - general term, German armed services WWII

COBRA - Cabinet Office Briefing Room ‘A’, used by British Prime Minis= ter for meetings with security staff.

FARC – Colombian guerrillas/communist

 


British military slang

 

 

Oppo - opposite number/close working buddy

Pongo -  soldier - derisive

Ponce/poncey - upper class/educated/effeminate - derisive

Regiment - he was ‘Regiment’- he was SAS

Rock Apes - RAF Regiment - defensive unit of airfields

Rupert - officer/upper-class - derisive

Beast - punish soldier

Stripy - Air Force Officer, derisive term for ranking stripes

Billets - accommodation/food

Civvy - civilian

Badged - qualified entry to SAS, receipt of cap badge

Best bib and tucker - best suit/outfit/military dinner suit

QT - on the QT, on the quiet

Stag – on guard duty

 


Valetta, Malta. 1963

 

 

‘Try and rest,’ the = priest softly encouraged, dabbing his father’s brow with a damp cloth, the temperature high for an autumn day in Malta. He idly swiped away another fl= y, the apartment’s cracked windows letting in the shouts of children pla= ying in the street below, an unseen cat crying out for some attention.

  =     His elderly father struggled to sit up, unable to complete that small movement;= the energy had left his frail body. ‘The list!’

      ‘Rest= ,’ the priest softly encouraged, now kneeling at the side of the bed.

      Easing up, = he took in the rundown apartment with a puzzled frown; the bottles littering t= he floor, the cockroaches attracted to rancid cat food placed on old newspaper= s, empty food tins, and a large pile of handwritten pages. Fetching water from= a rusted tap, he wondered how his father - a very rich man, had come to end u= p in this squalor.

      The priest = had spoken little to his father in the past ten years, since his vows. Before t= hat his father had always been distant, but at least approachable when his moth= er had been alive, fond memories of a pleasant childhood in Basel, Switzerland. The priest had grown up in a large house, always full of interesting people, always the best of everything. Unlike many families struggling through the = lean post-war years, they had enjoyed holidays abroad, especially here in Malta. They had been better off than most, but for reasons that the priest could n= ever have guessed.

      His mother = had died after a short illness whilst he had been in seminary, the detail of th= at illness coming as a shock, and only being revealed to him after she had pas= sed away. Returning to their home in Basel for the funeral, he had found it stripped of everything, his father offering a single ‘goodbye’ = as they passed at the cemetery. Now, little more than a year later, his father= had summoned him here, to a cheap apartment on the island of Malta, his father = now living in squalor, an old revolver visible under the pillow.

      The old man= tried to speak, lifting a shaky hand. ‘Buried in Zug … buried the treasure … Nazi treasure.’

      The priest = stared hard at his father, not sure he had heard the words correctly, a chill runn= ing through him. ‘Nazi … treasure?’

      ‘Buri= ed … next to the treasure … the files … files of great value. The list!’ The words were repeated many times, the old man using his remaining energy to desperately force them out before he slipped into unconsciousness.

      Unable to r= ouse his father, the priest lifted up the pile of hand-written notes, scanning t= he first page whilst he considered fetching a local doctor, and debating how he might go about finding such a person at this late hour. He took several measured steps toward the door as a cat cried out again, enough time to read the first paragraph. He stopped dead. The written words caused him to turn,= and to stare open-mouthed, at the seemingly lifeless form of his father.

By dawn, the priest had re-read the numerous pages four times, catching only an hour’s sleep during the night, the tear-tracks down his face distinct in the amber light of dawn. Setting light to each page in turn, he let the burning paper float down into apartment’s chipped and rusted bathtub, staring at the pages as they = slowly changed colour and folded in on themselves, their hideous story lost foreve= r.

Gathering up the brittle ashes, he flushed them down a yellow-stained toilet, another cat crying forlornly at = him through a cracked bathroom window. Returning to the bedroom, he snatched the pillow out from under his father’s head, placed it over the old man’s face, and pushed down with force and anger in his arms.

      ‘Forg= ive me, Lord,’ he said in a strained whisper as he pressed down.  

Leaving the apartment, and trying n= ot to trip over the dozen hungry cats littering the stairway, the priest consider= ed the final line his father had written, and what it might mean: ‘Find = the Englishman, Beesely.’

 

 

 


Dallas, Texas. That sunny day.

 

 

The police officer rele= ased the safety catch on his sniper rifle and waited; calm, confident, resolute in h= is beliefs and his purpose. A moment later, cheering signalled the approach of President Kennedy’s motorcade, the procession visible through a crack= in the wooden fence the office now stood behind. The officer had just a few seconds to make a choice that might change history, his grip on the rifle tightening.

As he observed his intended target, three shots rang out, distorted echoes bouncing off nearby buildings, an overlapping chorus of screams and shouts rising up. He felt oddly relieved, and heaved an involuntary breath. Loweri= ng his rifle, he peered over the wooden fence at the chaos. In his black and w= hite police motorcyclist’s helmet, he studied the scene through his sunglasses: the President was slumped forwards, not a visible target, not t= hat it mattered now, it seemed the job had been done.

The rifle’s barrel and stock = were unclipped in haste, the weapon soon a third of its original length. His motorcycle’s pannier hung open ready and the rifle parts fitted well, covered in a moment as the pouch clipped shut. Throwing a leg across, he pu= shed the bike for ten yards, free wheeling before starting it. Pulling off quiet= ly, he gently accelerated, the bike’s radio buzzing with shouted orders or requests for clarification. A quick glance over his shoulder confirmed an e= mpty parking lot.

      With the sun beating down on deserted streets, he drove four blocks, the only thought on= his mind being what a pleasant day it was for such a cold act. He pulled into t= he next alley. Turning hard and then braking, he passed under a shutter door b= eing held open for him, halting with a squeak in the dark interior of a large workshop, the shutter immediately dropping down with a clatter. The officer dismounted, kicking out the bike’s stand before calmly taking off his= helmet. A punctured oil barrel enclosed and funnelled a roaring fire just outside an open rear door, the police helmet tossed in, his sunglasses and gloves insi= de it.

      ‘Any problems?’ came a familiar voice from the shadows.<= /p>

      The officer= took a moment to adjust to the darkness. ‘None at all,’ he replied i= n a nasal and clipped English accent, calm and casual as he continued to strip down. ‘Our friends loosed off three rounds, so one fired twice. Poor old Oswald, he was in the wrong place at the right time.’

‘Did you … need to, you know?’ echoed from the shadows.

      ‘No,&= #8217; the Englishman answered as he undressed, amused by the other man’s discomfort.

      ‘And … would you have?’ the second man asked after a moment, standing and moving into the light.

      ‘With= out hesitation,’ the Englishman firmly stated as he grabbed fresh clothes= , as if proud to issue the words. ‘I manage to see these things … qu= ite clearly.’

The second man nodded, putting his cigarette back on his lip. ‘Listen, old chap,’ he mocked with an English accent, stepping closer and checking over his shoulder. ‘Fami= ly would prefer if you didn’t get too friendly with my kid sister given = who, and what, you are.’

The Englishman attended his clothes. ‘Oliver, let’s be clear about this; she … was the one mak= ing all the moves. And dare I remind you that it was you who introduced = us. A surprise given just who, and what, I am.’ He tipped h= is head and formed a thin smile as he buttoned his shirt. ‘And the good = lady is not quite the kid sister. She’s twenty-six, divorced with two kids, and could probably drink us both under the table!’ =

      Oliver shru= gged a reluctant agreement with that last statement. ‘C’mon, old chap<= i>, the new Chairman of The Lodge is waiting. He hasn’t yet had the pleas= ure that is Morris Beesely from Englandshire.’


England. June, 2007.    The J= oke.

 

 

Sir Morris Beesely woke= from a daydream, certain that he could hear gunfire. Sitting up and letting down h= is legs, fogged for a moment, he observed as delicate beams of sunlight illust= rated dust mites rising and falling, his mind still in Dallas on that sunny day. Easing up and stretching, he peered through a crack in the curtains, noting= his bodyguard below with a resigned sigh. ‘Oh … gawd.’

      Sweat rolled down the bodyguard’s face, today being a particularly warm day for stalking pr= ey. He now wished that he had not worn his silk ‘Simpsons Family’ shorts, they were stuck to his skin.

He stood motionless, pistol ready, breathing steadily. Ignoring any distractio= ns, he waited for the right moment. Nine years in the SAS, ten years working as= a freelancer for various mercenary and intelligence groups, he had seen better days. He now had something to prove. He had missed this quarry fifteen times already, but this time it would be different, he told himself. With his wea= pon held on-target, he wiped sweat away from his eyes with the sleeve of his su= it jacket, his sponsor observing unseen from a high window.<= /h2>

      Movement. T= he gunman’s quarry foolishly gave away its position. <= /p>

      This one wo= uld be different, they would see, he could do it. He pulled his sweaty shorts out = of the crack of his backside, and fired. Quickly adjusting his aim a fraction,= he let off six rounds, bracketing the target, spent 9mm cartridges flying high= and wide. He closed the gap and fired again at point blank range with anger and determination, willing the bullet into his intended victim.

      Nothing. No movement.

He readied his trowel, determined t= hat they were not getting away. Digging quickly, he opened up the mole’s latest mound, right down to the small two-way tunnel.

Nothing.

‘Bollocks!

With a sigh, he holstered his weapo= n, his sponsor turning away from the window.

=       ‘Any luck?’ his sponsor’s housekeeper enquired from the edge of the lawn, the lady now stood with a tea towel in her hand.

      The gunman = lit up as his sponsor came into view. Since leaving active service, and retiring to work as a simple bodyguard and driver, his sponsor and mentor had been very tolerant. So far.

      ‘Well= ?’ the old man asked, no hint of emotion evident.

=       The gunman lowered his head and dropped his shoulders. Two hours of shooting up his sponsor’s lawn with a 9mm pistol had produced no visible results; no deaths, not even a wounding. The garden moles had won.

      The houseke= eper was sympathetic. ‘Maybe if you wore your old camouflage clothing.R= 17;

 &= nbsp;    Slowly, his sponsor’s features distorted. He bent double, clutching his chest. Laughing hard, but silently, he crumpled and fell over. Bemused, the housekeeper did not understand the cause of the hysterics, rushing to the a= id of her elderly employer; she had not meant to be cruel about the gunmanR= 17;s efforts.

 &= nbsp;    The gunman walked inside, his head lowered, checking his watch. The Simpsons we= re on in five minutes, time for a cuppa.


Not a pleasant way to die

 

1

=  

= With his shoes squeaking on the recently polished floor, George Willis, assistan= t to the new director of MI6, approached an isolated office in the basement of t= he MOD, Central London. He knocked on the glass door and entered without waiti= ng.

      ‘Will= is?’

      The sole oc= cupant of this small office squinted over the rims of his glasses in unwelcome recognition of the younger visitor, the occupier half-buried in files. The disgruntled employee, fifty-four at his last birthday, sat wearing new red braces over an off-white shirt hiding a slight frame. His grey hair grew th= in, his cheeks thinner. After a moment’s thought he jabbed towards the ke= ttle with his pen, a firm hint. ‘Kettle has boiled.’

      Willis snif= fed. ‘What’s in the kettle, Toby? Scotch?’ he asked with a kno= wing grin as he took a seat.

      Toby stared= back for several seconds. ‘It’s the cleaning liquid they use for the lino on the floor, it smells terrible,’ he stated. He threw down his = pen, eased back and took a big breath. ‘So, what brings you down to purgatory?’

      ‘Well, you’re really, really old, and rumoured to be a really sneaky shit.’

=       Toby forced= up his eyebrows in theatrical surprise. ‘Compliments already, you must be after something.’ He folded his arms.

      Willis ease= d back and crossed his legs. ‘Sir Morris Beesely.’

      Toby allowe= d himself a thin smile, an old memory surfacing. ‘That name takes me back to the good old days; long lunches, fiddling your expenses, being politically incorrect, genuine enemies to spy on. He was old school, prop= er spy. He knew Ian Fleming, they said.’

      ‘What= ’s he like?’

      Toby frowne= d in surprise. ‘Beesely? God, is he still alive?’ he asked as he pou= red out two small drinks.

      ‘Yes, apparently. Someone lifted his old personnel files, so Madam will not be pleased. That is, of course, if I tell her.’

      ‘Ah y= es, the new lady of the manor: Dame Helen Eddington-Small. How long now, three weeks in the hot seat?’

      Willis nodd= ed. ‘She’s not one of the boys, but better at her job than –’

      ‘Cert= ain age-ed gentlemen,’ Toby finished off without looking up. <= /p>

      ‘So w= hat about this Beesely character?’ Willis pressed.

Toby curled a lip as he thought bac= k to his early career. ‘He was quite the lad. Excellent at his job, don’t get me wrong, but he always managed to get himself into trouble and, strangely enough, he always managed to get away with it.’ He lif= ted his head, staring out of focus. ‘Bit of a ladies man if I recall, eve= n in later life.’ He focused on Willis. ‘Anyway, they never managed = to make anything stick. Not even that Kosovo thing.’

=       ‘Kosovo?’ Willis challenged. ‘That would have been well after he retired.’= ;

      ‘AGN Security,’ Toby whispered, glancing around the small office, despite = the fact that they were the only occupants.

      ‘I kn= ow the outfit. What about them?’

      ‘They= ’re heaped full of ex-SAS muddy-boot-wearing types. An unofficial recruiting gr= ound for your more energetic field agents ... when the lads are short of money, of course.’

=       ‘So what’s the connection?’ Willis asked, hiding a smile.

      Again, Toby curled his lip, giving a slight shrug. ‘Beesely used to own it, he may still do. Madam’s illustrious predecessors used to sub-contract the o= dd job to AGN - plausible deniability. But I had heard he retired from = all that long ago.’

      ‘Got a photo?’

      ‘Why,= lost his file?’ Toby pointedly enquired.

      Willis heav= ed a sigh. ‘Photo?’ he pressed.

=       ‘Only in my mind,’ Toby mouthed in an exaggerated fashion. ‘Five ten, thin, bit of a stoop, walks quickly.’ He shrugged, grimacing. ‘Bald, thin face. Looks like someone of his age, I suppose. Saw him l= ast year - well, maybe five years ago - at a reunion bash somewhere. I can̵= 7;t remember where, so it must have been a good one. Still sharp as a tack, mind you. He remembered me, and all my … misdemeanours.’

=       ‘Didn’t catch you drinking on the job, did he?’ Willis took a sip and winced. ‘So what’s this Kosovo thing you mentioned?’ he coughed o= ut.

      Toby grinne= d at his visitor’s discomfort. ‘It happened during the early days of= the conflict, when I had a desk with a window; Beesely sent recon’ teams = in under the radar. Some got themselves caught, but the powers that be wouldn’t send a rescue after them, so he funded one himself. He rescued some ex-SAS trooper by sending in some other ex-SAS trooper. ItR= 17;s quite the after-dinner story in some circles.’

      Willis̵= 7;s expression suggested they had the time.

      Toby reluct= antly continued, ‘Well, this one ex-SAS guy, a freelancer for Madam’s predecessors - Ricky something if I recall, he went in after Johno. That’s Beesely’s driver now, by the way, I saw him at the reunion.’

      Willis ease= d his face forward. ‘His driver?’

      ‘Back= then this Johno fellow was a freelancer for your lot. He went into Bosnia a few times, apparently successfully blowing things up. Whatever. Anyway, he went into Kosovo to blow up some ammo’ dump. He parachuted in, walked twen= ty miles, and made a nice big bang.’

      Willis offe= red a look of mock surprise.

 &nb= sp;    ‘I told you, it’s quite the after-dinner story. Anyway, on the way out he ran into a battalion of Serb regulars. They put five, ten, or twenty rounds into him - depends on how drunk you are by this point in the story – = and left him for dead.’

      ‘What happened?’

      Toby studie= d the inside of his glass. ‘He performed first aid on himself apparently, stitches and everything, radioed-in his position. Powers that be decided against a rescue.’ He sighed. ‘Bravo Two Zero all over again.’

      Willis hid a grin. ‘So how did he get out?’

      Toby raised= a finger and smiled coyly. ‘Beesely organized the rescue, that guy Ricky plus some Kosovan Albanian resistance fighters. Not only did your lot refus= e to help, they threatened Beesely. He sent a rescue anyway, all organised in ju= st a day apparently. This Ricky was some big deal agent; he walked across the border, found Johno, and carried him out.’

‘Carried him?’

      ‘On h= is back, apparently, so the story goes; thirty miles to the border, dodging the Serbs. Some say Ricky carried him for three days without sleep. Who knows? Anyway, they had to shoot their way out, American helicopter picking them u= p on the Macedonian border.’

      ‘Why = on earth would the Americans pick them up, especially if AGN sent them in, a civilian outfit? And a British firm at that!’

      ‘Big … mystery.’ Toby mouthed the words carefully, again glancing ar= ound the room. ‘Another rumour about Beesely – he was always very friendly with the Americans. Anyway, rest is sketchy, rumours of this pair landing on a Yank aircraft carrier, Johno being stitched up and flown to It= aly and to a Yank military ho= spital before turning up back here. His driver, this man Johno, he spent a year in rehab.’

      ‘What= does this … Johno look like?’

      Toby ran a forefinger and thumb from below his nose, edging his mouth, and squarely do= wn to his chin. ‘Old school trooper moustache – Mexican bandit - l= ong sideburns, crew cut on top. Stocky, five eleven. Wouldn’t want to nud= ge his elbow in a bar; dangerous eyes. Spoke to him at that function, or the o= ne before.’ Toby curled a lip. ‘He drinks a lot, very sarcastic and negative.’

Willis raised an eyebrow and suppre= ssed a smile as Toby poured himself another drink.

Toby continued, ‘Big enquiry = by your lot as to how that pair got out. Anyway, they arrested him, Beesely th= at is. Next thing we know - all charges dropped. I told you, he always got away with it. Maybe the Queen helped.’

      Willis uncr= ossed his legs and straightened. ‘The Queen?’

      ‘Stra= nge trivia fact; she and Beesely met up once or twice a year, every year, for s= ixty years. They have, apparently, known each other since 1944.’

      ‘Well= ,’ he said as he stood. ‘I’ll be leaving with more questions than I came in with.’

      ‘Enli= ghtenment is what I’m here for.’

      ‘That= guy Ricky, he was working for Beesely’s firm at the time, AGN?’

      Toby formed= a thin, humourless smile. ‘Nope, he was on your books. He and Beesely k= new each other through Trooper Snoopers.’

      Willis tipp= ed his head. ‘Trooper … Snoopers?’

      Toby glanced around the empty room. ‘It’s a unit that isn’t supposed to exist. They draw officers and men from all services, just for a year or two.’

      ‘To do what?’

      ‘Chec= k up on ex-servicemen after retirement, former officers from delicate positions,= to see that they’re not writing their memoirs or married to a Russian ballerina named Olga. They also spy on ex-SAS troopers, see what they are up to. Mostly SIB flatfoots, and some of your lot.’

      ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard of it.’

      ‘Like= I said, it isn’t supposed to exist,’ he said with a smirk, ‘= ;but I see the funding!’ He tapped the files in front of him. ‘Beese= ly was involved on and off for twenty years, so I’ve heard, even after he left regular work.’

      ‘Ah &= #8230; the fog is lifting a bit.’ Willis stepped to the door, turned and shrugged one shoulder. ‘See you at Christmas then, I suppose?’<= o:p>

      Toby stared. ‘How many uncles do you have?’

 

2

 

‘What’s up, Doc?’ Johno asked.

      The grey-ha= ired psychiatrist rolled his eyes, gesturing John ‘Johno’ Williams t= owards a seat, the roar of London traffic a dull drone in the background. This was Johno’s regular monthly session, the psychiatrist’s offices on = the second floor of a drab building off the Tottenham Court Road, central Londo= n.

      Johno picke= d up a pink squeeze-ball and slouched down. ‘It all started when I was a schoolboy,’ he said with mock seriousness. ‘Teacher touched me up.’

      ‘Did he?’ Doctor Manning probed as he settled himself, finally facing his patient.

 &nb= sp;    ‘Hah! That would give you something to scribble down.’ Johno sat upright. ‘Anyway, why don’t you scribble down stuff any more? You used to.’ He ran a hand down his bushy moustache.

      ‘I ga= ve up on you long ago, you know that,’ Manning dryly stated.

      ‘Brok= e you, I did.’

      ‘You certainly gave me a run for your money.’

      ‘Bees= ely’s money, waste that it is,’ Johno retorted as he glanced out of the win= dow.

=       ‘Do you think your time here has been wasted?’ Manning posed, easing back= and now holding his pen between both hands.

      ‘Ah, = the serious pen stance,’ Johno teased. Suddenly self-conscious, Manning put t= he pen down. Johno tossed him the squeeze-ball. ‘Try that, you look stressed. I have that effect on people.’

      ‘I mu= st admit, Johno, you are a … perplexing character.’ Manning placed down the ball, interlacing his fingers.

=       ‘Me? Nah, two dimensional me,’ Johno mocked.

      ‘Hard= ly, you’re far more complicated than most give you credit for.’

      Johno squin= ted. ‘Most?’

=       ‘I assist a lot of soldiers, some know you.’

      ‘And = you discuss me?’

      ‘Not directly, but some are former SAS, and they recall experiences ... and peop= le. You crop up a lot actually. And I use your ... experience as an example.’

      ‘Do I= get a commission?’

      Dr. Manning= could not hold in the smile. ‘So, Johno, how have you been?’

=       ‘Up and down, not enough side to side, the usual. Still drinking too much, bad dreams, leg hurts. Can I go now?’

=       Manning lifted his hands, offering two open palms. ‘No one is forcing you to = come here –’

      ‘Not<= i> quite true, Doc. Beesely gives me money for the hotel and … expenses= , so I go lap dancing, burn up a few weeks pay. I’d come here every frigging week if he paid.’

      Manning let= out a breath. ‘Well, it’s nice to know there’s no ulterior moti= ve for you attending these sessions.’

      ‘So, = what did you want to discuss this month, Doc?’ Johno asked with a wry smil= e.

      ‘What= would you like to discuss?’

      Johno sighe= d. ‘How many times have you asked that?’ He waited. ‘And how many times have you got a straight answer?’

      ‘It&#= 8217;s a requirement. It’s what they teach us shrinks on day one at shrink s= chool.’

      Johno laugh= ed. ‘See, isn’t this more fun when we take the piss out of each other?’

      ‘Well= , I would actually like to earn my pay.’

=       Johno adopted his best attempt at a serious expression, resting an elbow on the c= hair arm. ‘I feel cured. Just tell me where to sign and I’ll let you= off the hook. Is there a standard form? Patient self-cert’ of sanity?R= 17;

      ‘If o= nly it was that simple. So, how have you been, Johno?’ Manning presse= d.

=       ‘Fine.’ Johno took a big breath, becoming genuinely serious. ‘I’m forty= -six in a few months, I can’t run too well because of the knee, I shag prostitutes because I don’t want any nice girls to see the scars, and= I can’t spend the night with anyone because of the shouting nightmares.= So I get hammered quickly, just before bedtime. Bad for my health I know, but simple.’

      Manning stu= died him. ‘And you seem to accept it.’

      Johno gave = it some thought, shrugging. ‘What else should I do? Make you happy and g= et all morbid and moody, fit neatly into one of your psycho-models? Look, Doc,= my head isn’t injured, my body is. If someone loses a leg they get a pla= stic one. I got some scars, so no swimming in the public pool. Simple. I dream fucked-up scary stuff, so I drink. Simple … and practical.’

      ‘Quite practical. You seem to see all your problems as just that, problems to be solved in the real world.’

      Johno offer= ed Manning a teasing grin. ‘As opposed to the Twilight Zone that some of your patients visit?’

      Dr. Manning sighed. ‘No, the real world out here, not in the sub-conscious mind, which is where I spend most of my time.’

      ‘Is it dark? Do you, like, take a torch?’

      Manning sig= hed again, long and hard. ‘Where did I put that “cured” rubber stamp?’

      ‘With= the rubber mallet for difficult patients?’

      ‘So,&= #8217; Manning started again, a big breath taken in and let out, ‘how’s Beesely these days?’

      ‘He&#= 8217;s doing better than me. He’s still sharp as a tack, and in better healt= h. Eighty now –’

      ‘Seve= nty-nine. Eighty in three months,’ Manning corrected.

      Johno stare= d at the floor. ‘Remind me closer to the time, always forgetting his bloody birthday.’

      ‘Did = he … appreciate the lap-dancers you got him last year?’

      ‘Nah,= he let me enjoy myself. But you and I both know he lives his life through my eyes.’

      ‘Quit= e an insightful observation,’ Manning said, his eyes narrowing as he focus= ed on Johno.

    =   ‘Why else would he keep me on? He doesn’t need a bodyguard, and he can sti= ll drive himself just about.’ Johno shrugged again, glancing out of the window at the bustling London thoroughfare below.

    =   ‘Maybe he’s just gotten used to you, and all your annoying habits.’

    =   ‘Maybe he’s just afraid of burglars,’ Johno quickly retorted.

    =   ‘I don’t think Mr. Beesely is afraid of anything.’

    =   Johno squinted, focusing on the psychiatrist. ‘You and he go way back.̵= 7;

    =   ‘A long time, yes: thirty years. I was retained by MI6, sorry … SIS these days, working with agents returning from imprisonment abroad.’      =

Johno winced. ‘T= hat must be tough, twenty years in a fucking Siberian Gulag.’

    =   Manning nodded, alone with his thoughts for moment. ‘Some had great difficulty adjusting.’

    =   ‘So I’m lucky, still functioning up top, all right as rain.’

    =   Manning again hid a smile. ‘How’s Beesely’s housekeeper, Jane, th= ese days?’

    =   Johno tipped his head and studied the psychiatrist. ‘As far as I remember … that’s the first time you’ve ever asked.’

    =   ‘You all live together, so she must play a part in your life. You admitted before about treating her like a younger sister.’

    =   ‘And see where that got me; you talking about family for a whole year, twelve sessions in a bleeding row.’

    =   ‘So, how is she?’ Manning pressed.

    =   Johno glanced out the window. ‘Same as ever, and just as fucked up as me. S= he’s anorexic, she cries in her sleep, and she doesn’t leave the house or Beesely’s side. Like a ten year old.’

    =   ‘You sound … harsh, and yet you were almost jailed two or three tim= es for looking out for her?’

    =   Johno made a face. ‘When I first started working for old man Beesely he ord= ered me to protect her, you know, part of the job. He also told me not to show a= ny interest in her. Fat chance of that, no pun intended, she’s a walking skeleton.’ He turned away again.

    =   ‘There is a difference between protecting someone, and chasing a bag snatcher then beating him to a pulp.’

    =   Johno focused on Dr. Manning. ‘That’s my anger issue, as we labelled = up years ago, not about … her.’

    =   ‘Are you sure? Are you sure that you don’t actually feel better about your= self … when you look out for others, especially a frail and anorexic woman?’

    =   ‘I’ve never wanted a puppy, Doc, so no,’ Johno stated in dismissive tones.<= o:p>

    =   Manning sighed. ‘I must be keeping you from some young lady with large breasts and colourful tattoos.’

    =   Johno stood, beaming a false smile. ‘It’s been a pleasure, Doc, as always.’ On the street, he lifted his mobile and dialled. ‘Hello?’

‘Hello?’ c= ame a woman’s voice.

‘Who’s that?’ Johno asked.

‘Who am I? This = is the Alzheimer’s Association. How may I help you?’=

‘Why are you rin= ging me?’ Johno enquired, a smile creased into one cheek.

‘Uh … you = rang us, sir.’

‘Did I? Why did = I do that?’

‘Are you OK, sir= ? Is there someone else there we could talk with?’

    =   ‘Yes.’ He waited. ‘Who’s that?’

    =   A sigh could be heard from the other end. Johno’s path was suddenly blo= cked by a man in a suit stood with his hands on his hips.

      ‘Still ringing the Alzheimer’s Association?’ a familiar voice asked.

      Startled in= his recognition of the man, Johno stared, his mouth opening. ‘General Sir Christopher Rose. Well I’ll be buggered.’

      ‘Need= a word, a private word, so get in the car.’ A car door was opened from within by a passenger, a smile for Johno.

      ‘Sir?= ’ Johno said, bent double and facing the passenger, lost for other words as he recognised the second man. A firm nudge on the shoulder, and Johno eased in. ‘My mum told me never to get in cars with strange men.’

       The General eased into the front passenger seat, the car immediately pulling off. ‘I think, Johno, that mothers tell their daughters that with you in mind.’

      ‘You = may be right. It’s been a long time, General. Were you, you know, old, wrink= ly and bald the last time we met?’

      The passeng= er tried to suppress his smile. General Rose glanced over his shoulder, a hard glare offered, but said nothing.

 

An hour later, and Johno was sat staring at the wall of a cheap hotel room, several empty beer cans littering the small window table. With pursed lips = he blew out, long and slow. ‘Bloody hell.’

      ‘We b= oth know you’re a good actor,’ General Rose reminded his unwilling guest. ‘Good undercover. And, in the short term, all we need you to d= o is to be your annoying self; keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground. I= f, and when, over the next few months you happen to hear the name, try and get= the list – lookout for the treasure. We’re not asking you ̷= 0; to betray Beesely.’

      Johno turne= d his head, making strong eye contact. ‘And I wouldn’t,’ he snarled. ‘Her Majesty’s Government, bless ‘em, left me in Kosovo. He got me out!’

=       General Rose sighed and straightened. ‘Let’s not go back over old groun= d. This is about the safety of the UK–’

      ‘Yeah, yeah, we did the patriotic speech bit. I stood to attention, remember.̵= 7;

      ‘In e= ffect, we’re not asking you to do anything. We’ve given you the details and the clues, so that if and when the time comes you’ll know = what to do.’

      Johno faced= the wall again. ‘Bloody … hell,’ he let out. ‘And what’s these Swiss boys interest in Beesely again?<= /p>

      ‘You = tell us … when you find out,’ General Rose stated.=

      ‘We&#= 8217;ll drop you around at the lap-dancers,’ the second man offered.

      Johno faced= his old boss, offering a hard glare. ‘Like I could get it up now!&= #8217; He finished the last beer can. ‘Any backup on this deal?’<= /o:p>

      ‘None= ,’ came quickly back, the reply sounding final.

      ‘Cont= act routes?’

      ‘The usual.’

      Johno stood. ‘Love to say that it’s been a pleasure, but all things consider= ed, I really wish I hadn’t got out of bed this morning, fuckers.’ He tipped his head at the second officer and left.

      With the do= or slammed shut the second officer stood. ‘Can we rely on him?’ he complained.

      General Rose eased up. ‘All our psych’ evaluations say he’s certifiabl= e; if he were still in the service he’d be sectioned. If he were a h= orse or a dog – he’d be put down! But I know Doc’ Manning, and= he has faith in Johno, although God knows why. We even bugged some of his sessions. He has acute Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; regressive childhood behaviour, shouting nightmares, chronic drinking, hand tremors, the works. = He wears t-shirts with little messages on them, phones people at random and ta= kes the piss. About the only adult thing he partakes of is the prostitutes, and even that’s weird.’

‘Weird how?’ the second office asked, dreading the answer.

‘Never takes his clothes off,= just gets the old todger out, keeping the scars hidden.’=

      ‘Why = are we even using him?’ the second officer complained. ‘On something t= his important!’

      General Ros= e sighed. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers. And right now he’s in the rig= ht place … at the right time.’

 

Five minutes after the officers had vacated the room an elderly cleaner let hers= elf in, an unlit cigarette balanced on her lip. She reached under the bed, fidd= led around and removed a listening device, pocketing it. She took another from behind the mirror, a third from the bathroom before leaving, the beer cans still littering the room.

 

3

 

= ‘Not a pleasant way to die.’ Willis uttered the words as much to himself as his superior, stepping now across the spacious office of the new director of Britain’s overseas intelligence service, SIS.

At forty-five she remained attracti= ve, if a little thin in the face for his liking. In her subordinates opinion she had earned the post, despite being noticeably younger than her predecessors= ; he regarded her as being more politically astute. He placed the report that he= had been reading onto her desk then, as an afterthought, rotated it the right w= ay up for her to study.

      She shot hi= m a look. ‘I doubt there are too many pleasant ways to die,’= she commented, a dry and husky voice out of character with her trim and pleasant appearance.

      Willis slip= ped down into one of two large leather chairs arranged in front of her noticeab= ly uncluttered desk; the desk supported just two flat-screen computer displays= , a neatly recessed keyboard and a multi-buttoned desk phone. ‘Not someth= ing you’re going to want to read before bedtime,’ he pointed out as= she started to scan the front page. She raised her eyes toward him without movi= ng her head, then focused again on the report as he pointedly added, ‘Or= any other time, come to that.’

She hesitated as she held the docum= ent, issuing a sigh. ‘Give me the highlights.’

      ‘This= poor guy was tortured at length. And expertly, might I add. They made sure he st= ayed awake and understood the full weight and magnitude of what he had done, = whom he had upset. They administered adrenalin injections, supplemented with coc= aine on the gums – finger toothbrush!’

=       ‘Cocaine?’ she puzzled.

      ‘Appa= rently it makes the tactile senses stronger, and it stops the attendant party from falling asleep, or inconveniently fainting too often during torture.’ She eased further back into her chair, her expression blank. ‘They took to him with a blowtorch, all captured on high quality vide= o, this guy surviving for some six hours. Towards the end of the tape they, we= ll, got rather nasty with him.’

      ‘Nast= y with him?’ she repeated with a pained expression.

      ‘Yes,= ’ he grimaced, remembering some of the video images. ‘As best we can figure, the victim was our Mafia hit man, the guy on our watch list.= Not an easy task, getting reliable intel’, since these guys play their ca= rds very close to their chests.’

      ‘And = our man’s connection?’ she asked, rising and walking to the window.=

      ‘Our = man had been tailing the deceased from Italy to Switzerland. Just at the point = that our luckless Mafia man was being bundled into a van, our man became aware of five other men, agents of some sort, suddenly surrounding him.R= 17; She glanced over her shoulder briefly with a questioning look. ‘Anywa= y, they politely escorted him back to the Swiss-Italian border, gave him some local wine and cheese, and bade him a fond farewell.’=

      At that Dame Helen turned around, her eyes widening. ‘Bade him a fond farewell?= 217;

      ‘With= a gift basket of wine and cheese for his troubles; good quality stuff, apparently.’ She lowered her head, thinking hard as she returned to h= er desk. Willis added, ‘The local police or intelligence services seemed= to be in on it, they waved them through an impromptu checkpoint.’

  =     ‘The Swiss Intelligence Services abilities rank just above those of Luxembourg, = and slightly lower down the scale than those of my local boy scouts,’ she illustrated. ‘We should know, we used to train them until they went a= ll political in the 1990s. Now the Germans and French train and equip them.= 217; She took a breath, staring out of focus. ‘So just what, exactly, is g= oing on over there?’ she thought out loud, tapping a foot.

      ‘All = we know is that the Mafia hit man, alleged hit-man, was linked to those= on our watch list, hence our interest. And it’s definitely the same Mafia guy in the video.’

      She eased forward. ‘Which was sent to the supposed Mafia man’s boss, found its way into the hands of the Italian not-so-Secret Service, and to us some four weeks later.’

      ‘In a nutshell. It doesn’t make a lot of sense I know –’

      ‘It doesn’t make any damn sense!’ she pointed out. He sank further = into his seat. ‘This unknown group is well connected - enough to influence= or corrupt Swiss police - ruthless beyond Russian standards in what they do to this poor man, but send our man off with a packed-lunch and his tail between his legs.’ She pulled a file out of a drawer. ‘I‘ve been doing some digging.’

      Willis was = immediately concerned. ‘Oh?’

      ‘I ca= n tie this group in to five other murders with the same taste in snuff videos. Apparently, it’s called getti= ng the chair. They were all video taped, all of the victims sitting naked in a chair as they were tortured. One lasted fourteen hours.’

      Willis purs= ed his lips. ‘Ouch!’

      She regarde= d her assistant for a moment. ‘Yes, ouch.’ Focusing back on the report, she said, ‘All of the victims were male, well built. Two more were Mafia hit men, several were Russians, one of thos= e being rumoured to be a particularly nasty Russian hit man with Chechen links. Ano= ther was former Serbian special op’s, rumoured to have raped and killed the children of a German industrialist before attempting to ransom the father, = and one was later identified as a Slovakian planning an attack on the Pope. All= in all, a very oddly-mixed bag.’

      He raised h= is hands, palms upturned. ‘All bad boys, no tears shed.’

      His boss sh= ot him a disapproving look. ‘Perhaps. It’s almost as if there is a = 230; vigilante element to these killings. It’s definitely the same group, cheekily confident in their ability to evade the authorities, and cheekily sending in a video each time, usually to the employer of the victim …= or associates of the victim.’

      ‘Quit= e a deterrent,’ he emphasised. ‘Any details from the local police in these countries?’

      ‘Noth= ing beyond the obvious; this group displayed a great professionalism each time,= not so much as a fingerprint or witness in any of the cases. There’s susp= iciously little evidence, as if the police themselves were colluding across four countries.’

      ‘That hardly seems likely.’

      She glanced= up at nothing in particular. ‘Then we have a mystery on our hands.’

      Willis stoo= d. ‘Not to worry,’ he offered. She had put her glasses back on, and now frowned at him over the rims. ‘Whoever this group is, they’= re only killing the scum of Europe.’

      He stepped towards the door as she returned to her previous file. Stopping and turning= , he said, ‘Oh, one more thing, completely unrelated. Some old files have gone missing.’

      ‘What= ?’ she barked.

=       With a pained expression, he informed her, ‘Yes … seems that someone= has removed all files that we had on an old boy, well before your time, former section head in the seventies and eighties, a Sir Morris Beesely.’

      ‘Bees= ely!’ She jumped up, slamming her hands onto the desk. ‘Oh, God,’ she added, her shoulders dropping.

      Willis took= a step closer, surprised by her reaction. ‘This… gentleman is alm= ost eighty years old.’

      She forced herself calmer. ‘He was rumoured to have stolen Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s private journals, from Number Ten, back in the seventies. We’ve been searching for those journals for a long time. Besides…’

      He waited. ‘Besides … what?’

      ‘Never mind. Thank you, that’s all.’

 

4

 

On a small sailboat in a Washington D.C. marina, senior CIA analyst James Kirkpatrick studied the report that had just been placed down for him on the polished galley table. As he read and absorbed each line his face inched cl= oser to the paper, his features hardening, his eyes widening. Finally he raised = his head and stared at the elderly, white-haired man sitting opposite.

      ‘You = see the problem?’ the white-haired man enquired, although it had clearly = not been meant as a question. He glanced at the yacht’s brass barometer, = gently tapping it as the boat moved, a familiar creaking sound issued by the boat’s rope moorings.

      ‘I do, Henry.’ Kirkpatrick eased back, taking off his glasses. ‘How do= you wish to proceed?’

      ‘Simp= ly observe for now. We have to be very, very careful with this. When he was active, Beesely knew about our ... activities in this area. If he reappears with a connection to this Swiss group just as we are finalising <= i>activities then, well …’ He upturned his hands.

      ‘A se= rious impediment,’ Kirkpatrick finished off. ‘What’s Beesely’s link to our Swiss cousins?’

      ‘We don’t know yet, but I have taken steps to find out. Pity is, there’s a prize greatly valued in Switzerland, at least in the short term, if that’s what Beesely and his people are up to … to get = at it.’

      ‘Do y= ou think Beesely knows what’s hidden in Switzerland? Or what’s hid= den within the K2 organisation for that matter?’

=       ‘All = we have at the moment are a great deal of K2 intercepts, all concerning Beesely.’

=       Kirkpatrick glanced again at the report. ‘Do you think they aim to kidnap him, to= get information?’

=       ‘Bees= ely hasn’t attended a meeting for ten years, hasn’t worked on any sensitive projects for twenty. What would be his value to K2?’

=       ‘Well, they’re interested in him for some reason,’ Kirkpatrick pressed= .

=       Henry took a breath. ‘Worst case scenario ... they’ve found something, somet= hing old that they think he can shed some light on, something from the sixties or seventies - either MI6 business, or possibly us. But as far as I know, the = K2 organisation has never shown any interest in anything this side of t= he pond.’

 

5

=  

‘What kind of man is Beesely?’ the front seat passenger asked in a mildly accented voice. The driver turned his head, but the question had been meant for the passenger in the rear.

The three men now sat in a darkened Range Rover, the inside even darker than the rain-swept dusk outside due to= the vehicle’s tinted and bullet-proof glass. Those rain clouds had brough= t on dusk an hour early on this otherwise mild June day in the English countrysi= de. From their raised positions, the men could see out over hedgerows on either side of the country lane they had stopped in. In the distance, they could j= ust make out a large house with its lights on, the house nestled between a wood= and a small lake.

The rear passenger began, ‘He’s a unique man, and he was a good officer back in the day – a good leader of men. He coined the phrase leading from the fron= t. He’s also an old-school gentleman, a proper gentleman, not like some = of the public school twats that run the intelligence services these days. You could image Beesely on a hunt in Africa with a line of slave bearers behind him.

‘I’ve known him almost twenty-five years, right from my first days in SAS. He wasn’t there t= hen, he was working for Army Intelligence, but I heard the stories and met people who knew him. When I did finally meet him I took to him straight away. He’s simple in his attitude, no messing about. If he’s wrong he’ll admit it, not like most of the Ruperts I worked for… who’d do anything to advance their own fucking careers.

‘He takes care of his boys, t= hose he sends out. It breaks his fucking heart if one gets hurt. What he did for Johno in Kosovo was no isolated case, he would have done it for anyone work= ing for him if he could. He’s eighty now, but still sharp and still going strong. I haven’t seen him for two years, but I don’t reckon he’s changed much.’

The front seat passenger sighed.

      ‘You&= #8217;ll be fine, boss. It’s going to be like frigging Christmas in there when they see me. Smartest move you made - bringing me along.’<= /span>

      The front s= eat passenger announced, ‘I would rather … climb Everest again than= be here. I hate things that are not ...  controllable, not black and white.’ He spoke with a cli= pped accent, even-toned, and with no hint of emotion.

      ‘Well that’s because you’re a tight-arsed Swiss banker. No offence. Y= ou can control the figures on a balance sheet, but you can’t control peo= ple, especially not the ones in that house.’

      ‘Sir?= ’ the driver asked in English, but clearly not his first language. ‘Why= is Lower Church Fenton called lower, and Upper Church Fenton called = upper, when the signs are there … and this land is flat?’

      The R= 16;sir in the front seat turned his head towards the rear. ‘I have wondered = this myself. The land here is flat, no hills, yet many place names are ‘lower’ or ‘upper’?’

      ‘Stre= ams, Boss. The villages are roughly at the same height above sea level, but a st= ream flows from one to the other, and in the old days a stream was a valuable commodity for all your frigging cows and crops and the like. Downstream was ‘lower’ and upstream is ‘upper’. In those days, if = you widened or dammed-up the stream, your neighbours downstream cut your bolloc= ks off.’

      The two men= in the front nodded their understanding, less so for the quality of the explanation.

      ‘Grea= t,’ the rear passenger complained. ‘Now I’m frigging hungry. Shall = we roll, Boss?’

      The R= 16;tight-arsed Swiss banker’ picked up his mobile phone.

 

Unknown to the three men, their Range Rover came into view through a night-sight, t= he central feature of a bright green-grey image. With a gloved finger, a button was selected, doubling the magnification, the sight’s built-in softwa= re taking a moment to adjust and settle. The vehicle’s occupants were not clearly visible, their general outlines appearing as distorted pale green b= lobs through the tempered and tinted windows.

The observer focused on the shapes,= a wry smile forming. ‘Two, this is One,’ he whispered in an American accent. ‘That vehicle has bullet-proof glass.’

The observer swept left then right,= the thermal image adjusting itself. The car’s bonnet displayed as bright orange, indicating heat, the car’s headlights a rich red colour that = was being toned down automatically by the system software. He turned on Video Record, a red flashing square of writing appearing in the bottom left of the image, its letters too small to be legible. The laser-rangefinder, now displaying in the top right hand corner, showed ‘60m’; sixty metres.

An audible beep in the man’s earpiece caused him to suddenly hold his breath. He lowered his stance quic= kly, and put solid ground between himself and whoever else might be around, a la= rge tree and small ditch offering him protection from being viewed with another night sight.

      ‘Two,= this is One. You have movement?’ he whispered.

      ‘Stan= dby,’ came the confident response.

      The first m= an listened, unwilling to elevate himself to a position where he could see, or risking being seen.

      ‘We h= ave two stealthy unknowns across the lake, kitted with night-sights. Two more r= ear of house.’

      ‘Am I clear, egress route one?’

      ‘Affi= rmative, you’re shielded from both parties. Haul it, buddy, got us some professional company for a change, not just irate Limey farmers.’


Sex and the sixties

 

1

=  

Sir Morris Beesely placed down the house phone, a 1940s antique that had been specially adapted for modern exchanges. ‘How very odd,’ he commented.

      He now stoo= d at the edge of a large oak table that had been the focal point of family gatherings his entire life. It remained one of the few things that reminded= him of the war, and of his parents and his brother - all now long dead. He rema= ined by the phone, his thumbs in the waistcoat pockets of his tweed suit. <= /o:p>

      ‘Very odd,’ he repeated.

      Johno wande= red in, slapping a newspaper onto the table. ‘What’s odd, Boss?R= 17; He stood dressed as usual in an old black suit with a clean white shirt.

      Beesely sta= red down at the phone as Johno drew near. ‘That was the auction house up = in town,’ he stated without looking up.

      ‘Sold= this old place then?’

      Without mak= ing eye contact, Beesely quietly stated, ‘Oh, yes, my boy, well and truly sold.’ He shook his head slightly. ‘In fact, it’s been so= ld several times over.’

      Johno flick= ed through the newspaper’s TV section. Without looking up, he quietly commented, ‘That auction house idiot screwed up and sold it to= two people at the same time?’

      Beesely rai= sed his head without making eye contact. ‘Nothing quite so simple, my grammatically challenged little helper.’

      Johno glanc= ed across. ‘Uh?’

      Now Beesely turned to face Johno squarely. ‘They did not sell it twice, young man, they sold it once … and for seven million pounds.’<= /o:p>

      Johno’= ;s cheek creased into a huge smile. He faced Beesely squarely. ‘Result! I feel a fact finding trip to Bar-bloody-Bados-in-the-frigging-sun coming on.’ Then he checked himself and frowned. ‘Thought you said that all the work it needed for the listed building status shit ... would make it only worth a million?’

      Beesely iss= ued a reluctant nod. ‘Correct. It is only worth a million.’ He straightened, staring ahead. ‘And yet, here we stand like a pair of p= rize tarts on the opening night of a New Delhi whore house.’ Focusing on J= ohno for a few seconds, he asked, ‘Would you be happy … to retire to Barbados, never to return?’

      ‘In an instant.’

      Beesely car= efully studied his driver.

      Johno stepp= ed closer. ‘Have they … you know, received the money?’ he as= ked, almost whispering.

      Beesely lea= nt towards him, whispering conspiratorially. ‘It was wired immediately.’

      Johno folde= d his arms. ‘Can they ask for it back?’

      ‘Nope= ,’ Beesely shot back. ‘Auctions … have rules, my boy.’<= /o:p>

      Johno let h= is arms drop, and turned back to the TV section of the newspaper. ‘It’s their problem then. Someone with that kind of money knows what he’s doing. Maybe there’s oil under the lake.’<= /o:p>

      ‘It&#= 8217;s a puzzler.’ Beesely breathed out. ‘I’d hate to find out t= hat this old place is being pulled down to build the next McDonalds or ... or w= hat am I babbling on about. We’re miles from anywhere, the roads are terr= ible, we sit on the edge of a National Heritage site and the grounds are too small for a weird little theme park of sorts.’

      Johno glanc= ed up briefly. ‘Know who bought it?’

      Beesely tip= ped his head from side to side, stretching his neck muscles. ‘It was anonymous; paid with a Swiss bank transfer.’

      Johno contr= olled his reaction. ‘Swiss?’

      Beesely too= k a moment, making eye contact. ‘Just because the buyer uses a Swiss bank … does not mean that he is Swiss.’

Johno shrugged, looking resigned to= the fact, stuffing his hands in his pockets. ‘They must know what they’re doing, not our problem. Let’s just pack a bag and fuck = off, eh.’

      As Beesely = held his gaze on Johno, his long serving housekeeper entered the room with a sil= ver tea set. It held a mug for Johno that pronounced ‘Passing forty!̵= 7;, its side adorned with a picture of Homer Simpson, belly hanging out. <= /o:p>

‘You’re back early. So what’s not our problem?’ Jane enquired as she prepared the tea.= The two men walked over to where she had placed the tray.

The housekeeper, and occasional secretary, wore a pained expression on a forty-one year old face that typic= ally showed no joy. She often complained about the temperature in the old house, even in the summer, her cold hands the butt of many jokes from Johno. Even = when they were abroad together, in the Caribbean or the tropics, she complained = of the cold.

      ‘Some= silly sod just paid seven million quid for this old dump,’ Johno blurted ou= t.

=       She turned = to Beesely for confirmation, her aged employer smiling and nodding. ‘Wow, that’s great,’ she commented in a quiet West Country accent. ‘What with all the stuff you’ve sold off and the shares you sold … you’re set for life now. Good for you.’ She poured out = two teas.

=       ‘Set for life,’ Beesely loudly repeated, lifting his gaze to the ceiling. ‘I wonder what I’ll do when I finally retire.’ He lowered= his gaze to Johno, who rolled his eyes at Jane’s statement. ‘I can = just about pay your salaries now,’ he risked.

It was an old joke. Johno and Jane exchanged glances, as they had done a hundred times before.

      BeeselyR= 17;s mobile came to life, Johno hiding a smile; he had downloaded another ring-t= one to it without anyone noticing. A mechanised voice began, ‘Ring ... ri= ng! Won’t somebody answer the damn phone? Ring! Hello!’<= /span>

      Beesely foc= used on Jane as he took it out. ‘Death can come as such a sweet release.’

      She gently slapped his arm and scowled, as Johno laughed.

      ‘Bees= ely here,’ their employer answered in a high-toned and nasal voice.<= /o:p>

      ‘My n= ame is Otto Schessel, and I am calling from The International Bank of Zurich,̵= 7; came an accented voice.

      ‘Ah, = I had been expecting someone to call.’ He glanced at Johno as he lowered the phone. ‘Swiss bank,’ he whispered.

      Johno’= ;s shoulders dropped. ‘Bollocks,’ he muttered. ‘I knew it wa= s a cock-up. So much for Barbados.’

      ‘Go on,’ Beesely keenly requested of the voice. ‘You are calling ab= out the sale of Broadlands –’

      ‘No, sir.’

      ‘No?&= #8217; Beesely puzzled.

      ‘No, = sir. I wish to talk with you regarding your late brother-in-law from Switzerland, = Herr Gunter Schapphaust.’

      Beesely sud= denly looked pale, Johno noticing and jumping to his feet. ‘My late brother-in-law,’ Beesely repeated for the benefit of Johno and Jane. ‘Would that be the Swiss Nazi bastard, Gunter, that particular brother-in-law?’ He carefully observed Johno’s sudden lack of i= nterest in the call it.

      The caller paused. ‘I cannot comment upon that, sir.’

      ‘No, = of course you can’t, you’re a polite and efficient Swiss banker. W= ell then, why exactly, are you calling my good self at this hour on a da= mp Thursday night?’

=       ‘Apol= ogies for the hour, sir, but this is an important matter. You are the last surviving heir, a distant relative, and your brother-in-law left no will. Therefore, = we must speak with you urgently given the large sum of money you will be inheriting.’

      ‘Larg= e sum of money I’ll be inheriting,’ Beesely repeated with a sceptical look, Johno now taking an interest. He added flatly, ‘It is my lucky day.’

      ‘Sir?= ’ came from the caller.

      ‘Never mind,’ Beesely intimated. ‘What did you wish to discuss, and ho= w - pray tell, would we communicate about this matter? Do I need to fly to Switzerland?’

      ‘No, = sir, I am outside your gate.’

      Startled, B= eesely clicked his fingers at Johno. ‘You’re outside my gate.’ J= ohno stepped to the window. After a second he turned and nodded, looking all business. ‘Then I suppose we should get to the bottom of this. My man will come out and open the gate; not electric I’m afraid, bit of a ch= ore to open it.’ He clipped the phone shut. ‘Tool up,’ he instructed Johno, his features hardening. ‘We have company … an= d I smell a rat.’ He held up his mobile. ‘And just how the hell did they get my mobile number? This darn thing is an unregistered pre-pay thing= y.’

 

2

=  

As Johno walked out to the gate, he could feel the Browning 9mm pistol digging into his lower back, cocked ready and stuffed down his belt for the most discreet profile. Stepping slowly, and glancing around, each step was loudly advertised as his shoes crunched gravel, a fine misty rain cooling his face= . He manhandled the large gate, the old iron squeaking loudly in protest as it w= as pulled open on dated hinges, gravel being crunched and displaced. He stood = to one side and waited, his face and hair now moist.

The Range Rover drew level, and he strained to see inside, the passenger’s window already down. Once the headlights were beyond him he could see two men in suits, dressed like R= 30; well… dressed like pin-head Swiss bankers, he considered. The passeng= er looked like a nervous Boris Becker with a tidy haircut, Johno considered. He offered tired eyes sunken into a youthful, pale face.

Johno’s concerns ebbed away. = ‘Evening,’ he flatly offered. ‘Nice night for it.’

The passenger glanced up at the dar= k sky and the rain with a puzzled look. ‘Nice night for what?’ he genuinely enquired, missing the sarcasm.

‘For things … that you might want to do a night like this, like … slug spotting.’ He raised an arm towards the house. ‘Park anywhere, but not on the flowerbeds, the boss gets pissy when visitors do that.’

Confused, the two visitors glanced = at each other as they watched out for non-existent flowerbeds, pulling forwards onto the large gravel driveway, Johno having failed to notice the diplomatic number plates. And the rear of the vehicle was now empty. The passenger ste= pped down from the car, briefcase in hand, and waited. The driver came around the front of the vehicle; no briefcase, just a bulging chest visible under his jacket.

‘Please,’ Johno said, gesturing towards the house, ‘go on in.’ He slowed his progress, keeping his distance behind them. The two visitors stepped into the illumin= ated porch. Johno had just stepped inside when he felt the press of cold metal to his right temple.

‘Keep walking,’ a voice whispered, a hand now on Johno’s left shoulder.

‘Bollocks,’ Johno let o= ut, louder than he’d meant to.

T= he two visitors had turned, smiling oddly at him before proceeding calmly inside. = They walked into the dining room, to be greeted by Beesely and Jane rudely sat waiting – not standing. As Johno trailed them inside, he carefully considered his options. Beesely and Jane were now both sitting behind the o= ak table, Johno noted as he entered the dining room, the big bullet-proof table with several under-table drawers, great places to conceal a gun. The tables were about to be turned.

T= he passenger politely introduced himself to Beesely as Otto Schessel, placing = his briefcase onto the table before standing off to one side, the driver walkin= g a similar distance the other way. Johno now stepped slowly towards the sitting Beesely, gun still to his head. His employer’s hands had been below t= he table, but as Johno crossed the room Beesely raised them onto the table, as= did Jane. Johno felt as though he might explode; he stared so hard at Beesely he thought his eyes were going to pop out. But Beesely smiled widely, soon cop= ied by Jane. The press of metal against his temple ended, the hand came off his shoulder.

=       ‘Getting frigging old, slow, and fat,= 217; came a voice that Johno recognised immediately. He spun around. There stood former SAS sergeant Richard ‘Ricky’ Davies, beaming. The ‘gunman’ put his weapon into his shoulder holster. Ricky stood almost six foot tall, a wiry frame with shortly cropped grey hair, and a fa= ce that made even close friends believe he was contemplating killing them then eating their body parts. Beesely had always remarked: a face that only a mo= ther could love.

=       Johno worked hard to control his reaction; this was one man in the world he could= not get angry with, no matter what he did. And this was a dirty rotten... ‘Dirty rotten bunch of bastards,’ Johno began, addressing them = all. ‘Bleeding sons of putrid dogs bollocks …’ They were all i= n on it, he was sure. It was elaborate enough for Beesely to have had a hand in,= but it wasn’t his birthday or April the first, no major anniversary, not = that he could remember those anyway.

      ‘You = looked shit scared, sonny,’ Ricky teased as he stepped closer. ‘You ne= ed a drink?’

      Johno stayed firmly rooted to the spot, muttering every bad word he could think of; a lo= ng list. He had been humiliated, scared, the butt of a joke, yet stood utterly delighted to see the man now in front of him.

Jane was the first to Ricky. She fl= ung her arms around him and he lifted her up, her eyes already full of tears of joy. He let her down gently and kissed her on the forehead, Johno having hu= rt people for far less.

      ‘Hey, skinny,’ Ricky whispered. ‘How’re the hands?’ He fe= lt her hands, exaggerating a sharp jerk at how cold they were. She slapped his arm, hard. ‘I told you before, if you want to play with my balls you’ve got to warm up them hands.’ She slapped him again.<= /o:p>

      Beesely drew level with Johno, who was still swearing under his breath. ‘Beaten by= a better man,’ he whispered as he passed, Johno relaxing a few degrees. Ricky put out a hand to shake, but was surprised to find Beesely giving him= a hug. ‘Good to see you again, Richard.’

The visitor, who had introduced him= self as Otto, stood watching, his face betraying no emotion as he studied them a= ll carefully.

      Ricky hugged Beesely, careful to note that he was hugging an eighty-year-old man, even if fit and healthy for his age. ‘Good to see you again, sir.’=

      Beesely eas= ed back, but held onto Ricky, suddenly becoming serious. ‘Last I heard y= ou were supposed to be banged up somewhere, but no one could find out anything= . I would have come for you –’

      ‘I know,’ Ricky cut in, also now serious, ‘but I have a new guardi= an angel, thanks to you in no small part.’ He tipped his head towards Ot= to.

      Beesely fol= lowed Ricky’s gaze, sizing up Otto. ‘I thought these goons were with = you, part of the … joke?’

      Ricky shook= his head. ‘He’s the real deal Swiss banker, no joke. I’ve been working for him for the past few months.’ Beesely studied Otto, many things racing through his mind. Ricky added, ‘I was in a Chinese jail= for life, till Otto here bribed half the officials in chicken-chow-mein province and got me out. They faked my death so that Peking-duck and Ho Chi Min wouldn’t be asking too many questions. Hell, MI6 were not about to sw= ap me –’

 &nb= sp;    Beesely straightened, shocked. ‘MI6 sent you into China?’ Without waiti= ng for an answer, he shook his head, walking back to the table. ‘Jane, c= ould you please prepare something for our guests.’ She turned towards the kitchen. Loudly, he said, ‘And if someone would be so kind as to shut= the bleeding front door we will all stay warm and toasty.’ Quieter, he ad= ded, ‘Except Jane, of course.’

      ‘I he= ard that!’ she complained as she disappeared through a side door.

      Now Ricky s= tepped up to a more relaxed Johno, although Johno still appeared as if he might clobber someone. ‘How you been then, runt?’

      ‘I= 217;m an inch shorter, that’s all. And I can cook field rations.R= 17;

      ‘You = call that cooking?’ Ricky challenged. ‘You ungrateful little shit stain.’

      ‘Hey,= old man, I didn’t alert the enemy by farting too loud!’<= /span>

      ‘List= en, sonny, if you weren’t so damn fat we could have got out of that scrape days earlier, maybe weeks, you little whinge bag.’<= /p>

      ‘Arse= hole!’

      ‘Toe rag!’

      ‘Whore house toilet washer!’

      Beesely ste= pped up to Otto. ‘This could go on for a while. Cup of Tea?’

      Otto gave a= slight head bow. ‘Thank you, that would be very nice,’ he said with an accent that Beesely picked up on straight away: German-speaking Swiss. Otto shot a glance at the other man, who immediately sat in the farthest corner, tucked out of the way.

      Beesely had= followed Otto’s signal around to the second man. ‘Your … driver?’

      ‘Driv= er and bodyguard,’ Otto replied. ‘One of many.’

      ‘I see,’ Beesely muttered, frowning slightly as he pulled out several ch= airs around the large table, as if a board meeting was about to be convened.

Jane soon reappeared holding two la= rge coffee flasks, mugs precariously gripped on each little finger. She fetched several best china cups from an old wooden sideboard and a large stack of coasters. Ricky and Johno were now gently punching each other on the should= er, talking about an arm wrestle or a race around the house.<= /p>

      ‘Rick= y, Johno, front and centre!’ Beesely firmly commanded, noting Otto’= ;s mild surprise. ‘Sit down! And somebody close that bloody door!’=

      Johno atten= ded to the door as Ricky sat. Otto sat where his briefcase had been left, and Jane stood at the far end of the table, soon busy taking whispered orders for tea and coffee. She had also brought out a pen and pad, an old habit.

When Johno returned, still mumbling= to himself, Beesely seated himself deliberately opposite Otto. ‘So, Richard,’ Beesely asked whilst staring directly across at Otto. ‘Just what, in exact and precise terms, not withholding any relevant detail, is going on?’

      ‘Long story, Boss.’

      ‘Good= job then that we have biscuits,’ Beesely cut in with, still focused on Ot= to.

      ‘Sir Morris, may I introduce to you Otto Schessel, head of The International Ban= k of Zurich. And, at forty-two years old, quite likely one of the world’s richest men.’

      Beesely app= eared as if he was about to say something, but checked himself and turned to Rick= y, a ridge creasing his brow. ‘Really?’

      ‘Yep,= ’ Ricky replied. ‘This guy has more money than God.’

      Johno eased forwards, resting his elbows on the table. ‘Bought any nice old Engli= sh country houses lately, Blotto?’

Otto frowned slightly at the delibe= rate mispronunciation of his name. Before he had a chance to answer, Beesely had turned to Johno.

‘Good question,’ Beesely approved, surprised by Johno’s insight. ‘Not quite as stupid as= you look.’

      Johno gritt= ed his teeth as Ricky laughed.

‘Yes,’ Otto answered. ‘I bought this property today, as you have guessed it correctly.̵= 7;

      ‘For = seven times what it’s worth,’ Beesely pointed out. ‘Not a very smart move. Generous, and gratefully received, but not very smart. And from= the same man who is handling my … inheritance. How intriguing.R= 17; He glanced again at Ricky.

=       Otto studied Beesely for a second, then opened his case and took a large brown envelope = from the middle of a pile of envelopes and files.

      ‘I was expecting to see your sandwiches in there,’ Johno quipped, Ricky controlling a small, stifled laugh. ‘Does your mum know you’re = out this late?’

      Otto did not react as he retrieved a set of house deeds from the envelope. ‘This s= igns the house back over to you, to use as you wish until death,’ he state= d.

      Beesely sho= t a look at Ricky, noting his coy grin, then just stared across at Otto, his expression blank. There came a long, awkward silence.

      ‘Nice gesture,’ Ricky finally encouraged, Beesely not responding.

      Otto glance= d at Ricky before taking another file from his case. ‘Your late brother-in= -law left a detailed will that stated … that in the event of his death, his money was to be used for supporting several political groups across Europe.= ’

      Beesely eas= ed his head forwards. ‘On the phone you said that he left no will.= 217;

      Otto stared= back for a moment, and then seemed to read the documents in front of him. ‘= ;If that version of his will had been allowed to be executed, then many right-w= ing political groups would have benefited from Gunter’s money.’

      ‘You = mean … neo-Nazi groups?’ Beesely prompted with a concerned look.

      Otto paused. ‘Yes.’

      ‘Oh.&= #8217; Beesely gave it some thought. ‘So you, Mister Otto Swiss banker, are = here because you do not agree with my late brother-in-law’s will, and would rather … I get to choose how the money is used?’

=       ‘It is complicated, but in simple terms, yes.’

      Beesely sat= back in his chair and turned to Ricky, who was now munching on a large shortbread biscuit. ‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ Ricky tried to swallow. ‘I mean, call me old fashioned, but I have always believed t= hat Swiss bankers do not go around changing wills, that they take their work ve= ry seriously, that they act diligently in the interests of their clients. And = yet here we sit, expected to believe that this Swiss banker - generous to a fau= lt in throwing away money on decrepit old houses - has changed someone’s will so that I benefit. Little old me.’ He tur= ned to Otto and stared directly at him. ‘Were you, perhaps, hoping I might split the proceeds with you in this grand international conspiracy?’<= o:p>

      ‘No,&= #8217; Otto replied as he pulled out another brown envelope, the top one. ‘T= he money is yours, to do with as you please.’

      Beesely sta= rted to get louder. ‘And just why the hell would you be arranging t= his … for me?’ He checked Ricky, finding him still smiling.

  =     Otto opened the envelope and slid an A4 black and white photo across the desk, n= ot dissimilar to someone laying down four aces in a poker game. Beesely sudden= ly appeared tired, the colour draining from his face. He reached down with his right hand and placed a Beretta 9mm pistol onto the table.

      ‘Boss= ?’ Johno asked, straightening.

      ‘It&#= 8217;s OK!’ Ricky assured them all. ‘Everyone relax!’=

      Beesely sta= red down at the photo of a woman. He ran a finger over the glossy paper, as if running it over the imagined contours of her face. ‘You’d better have a very good reason for having this photo, mister.’

His hand remained on the pistol as = their eyes met.

‘She was my mother,’ Ot= to stated.

 

* * *

 

Guido Pepi cut the end off a cigar, taking many seconds to light it. He shook the match, reaching across and tossing it into an ashtray on his grand desk bef= ore assessing the men ranged in front of him. He eased back into his chair, run= ning a hand through his long silver hair, a glance toward the windows. The moonl= ight was fighting its way in through the curtains on this warm night in the Tivo= li hills, east of Rome. ‘So,’ he said in Italian. ‘K2 has a = new owner.’

      ‘It&#= 8217;s a trick!’ a man complained. ‘Gunter’s will was altered, or destroyed.’

      Pepi nodded= ; a slow, almost unnoticed movement. ‘Of course it was. The original will left his fortune to the Swiss Government, some money to political groups; t= hat was the deal he struck for them to allow his continued existence. This new owner –’

      ‘Is British!’ another man spat out, disgusted at the idea.

      ‘The = K2 staff will not welcome this man, nor the Swiss people or Government,’= the first man suggested.

      ‘We w= ill see, as it unfolds. But gentlemen, it is no coincidence that our two biggest problems have just joined forces, not unless you believe in fate.’

      A Roman Cat= holic cardinal stepped in, fully robed and splendid in his regalia.

      ‘Ah, Cardinal. What news?’ Pepi asked, no one making any effort to stand or greet the newcomer.

‘The inheritance appears genuine.’ Pepi blinked. The cleric added, ‘This man, Beesely, w= as a very distant relative of Gunter, through his sister –’

      ‘Ah, yes,’ Pepi let out, tapping the end of his cigar over the ashtray. ‘She went to live in England before the war. It would be easy enough = for British Intelligence to alter some old records.’

      ‘Ther= e’s something else,’ the Cardinal added, his hands clasped as he made his report. ‘This man Beesely was a maverick, not trusted by his own peop= le. There is suggestion that he was a CIA plant.’

      Pepi eased = up, his concerned look noticed by the gathered men.    

‘Something?’ a man deli= cately enquired.

Without taking his studious gaze of= f the windows, Pepi responded, ‘Any CIA interest in K2 must be seen as a priority. I have no doubt they would love to get hold of the files, and = the list. Even more so than the British.’ He turned back to the Cardi= nal. ‘Kindly make contact with your people in the CIA. Re-acquaint yoursel= f, without explaining just what our concerns are. Do not … trust them.’

      The cleric = bowed his head and left, leaving Pepi staring at the windows, a puzzled frown forming.

      ‘Sir,= that bomb is still in place, counting down. They have not spotted it.’

      Pepi shrugg= ed. ‘It still suits its original purpose. Let it run.’

 

3

=  

If Beesely had looked ill before, he looked like death now. Inch by inch he lowered his head, his eyes misting over.

      Otto contin= ued, ‘If I may explain, it is a difficult situation, a long story. My grandmother was Jewish, a German Jew –’

      Beesely lif= ted his gaze, tapping the photo of his former lover with a finger. ‘Maria= nne ... was Jewish?’

‘My mother, the woman you met= in 1963, was the daughter of a German-Jewish refugee. She adopted the name Schessel. I am, technically, part Jewish.’

‘Which is very odd, consideri= ng the position you’re in ... in a Swiss bank,’ Beesely delicately, but firmly, pointed out.

      Otto nodded slightly. ‘Yes, it is correct. If this information was known I would = not be employed where I am. But I did not apply for any position, I was given t= he work by Gunter, your brother-in-law. He knew, but hid the fact; he did not = wish anyone to know that I was the son of a Jew.’

      Beesely rub= bed his forehead. ‘Sorry, you were saying something.’

‘My grandmother, she travelle= d to Switzerland just before the war. During the war she was detained by the Swi= ss authorities, in a camp near Lugano, being released with the help of her Swi= ss lover. He disappeared towards the end of the war and she raised my mother in Bern. My grandmother died when my mother was eighteen years old, leaving li= ttle money.’ He took a breath. ‘That was when my mother met and married Gunter.’

‘Gunter!’ Beesely explo= ded. ‘She ... was his wife?’

Johno glanced from face to face, not understanding.

Otto stared back for a moment, befo= re lowering his gaze. ‘He treated her well enough at the beginning, so I have heard, but spent less and less time with her in the short time after t= hey were married.’

Beesely’s eyes widened, clear= ly stung by the words.

Otto continued, ‘He never let= on about his past, his time with the Wehrmacht. In 1963 he found out that a distant relative, you Sir Morris, were working for British Intelligence and= he wanted to corrupt you, to bribe you perhaps. I do not know all the details.= He sent my mother to try and get you to Switzerland for some reason. She ̷= 0; was an attractive woman.’

      ‘The best,’ Beesely muttered.

      Otto offere= d, ‘Naturally, if you wish to have a DNA test carried out...’

      Beesely tur= ned his head to Ricky.

Ricky offered him back a confident = smile. ‘I wouldn’t bother, I’ve seen the evidence, did some of my own checking; Herr Otto here showed me around the outfit thoroughly. He knew you’d ask the question.’

      Beesely foc= used on Ricky with a hard stare. ‘Would you bet your life on it?’

      ‘With= out hesitation.’

Beesely nodded his reluctant accept= ance.

      Johno eased= up, reached across and had a peek at the photo. ‘Shit, she’s a babe= ! Know who she looks reminds me of–’

      ‘Alex= andra Bastedo,’ Beesely informed them without looking up, pronouncing the n= ame carefully. ‘Actress in that 1960s TV show: The Champions. People often mistook her for that actress when we went out. Something I may not ̷= 0; have denied as strongly as I should have.’

      Jane had a = look at the photo. ‘My God, she’s beautiful.’ She put a hand on Beesely’s arm. ‘What happened between you?’

      ‘She = told me everything,’ Beesely informed them, still staring at the photo, a = pain growing in his chest. ‘Not about Gunter, just that she was sent to sp= y on me. I offered her asylum here, in this country, thinking she was working for the East Germans, but she insisted that she had to go back. She said the two weeks here with me was the best … holiday she had ever had.= 217;

      ‘Hang= on...’ Johno’s brain had now caught up. ‘She came over to, you know, M= ata Hari … you knocked her up … and Blotto here -’=

      ‘Is, = most likely, my biological son.’

      Johno took a bite. With a mouthful of sandwich he said, ‘Shit, he’s got a lot more hair than you!’

      With Beesely focused on Johno, Jane approached Otto and placed a hand on his arm. ‘That’s great. Where are you staying? You should stay in the gu= est room here, get to know everyone,’ she rapidly got out.

      Otto did not quite know what to say, but smiled back politely.

      ‘Rick= y said it was a long story,’ Beesely firmly interrupted. He motioned for Jan= e to sit back down.

      Otto collec= ted his thoughts. ‘I was raised by Gunter, as his son. I never knew my mother, she died a year after I was born. A man I spoke to one year ago suggested that my … father had killed her in a drunken rage.’

      Beesely bre= athed in hard enough to worry Johno and Jane. ‘He … killed her?’

=       ‘Defi= nitely. I have confirmed it since.’

      ‘And = that’s why you changed his will?’ Beesely asked, now appearing unwell.<= /o:p>

=       Otto suddenly seemed saddened, or disappointed, his expression drifting through = many slight changes that Beesely was having a hard time following. He glanced at= the faces in the room for several seconds. ‘I changed his will the day I killed him.’ Jane’s enthusiasm for their guest had been swept a= way. Johno did not quite know what to make of that, and Ricky shifted uneasily in his seat. Otto added, ‘As he lay sick in the bed I poured water into = his mouth and held his mouth and nose closed, looking him in the eye. I told him ... this is for Marianne.’

      Silence gri= pped the table.

      Johno spoke first, still with half a mouthful of sandwich. ‘Nazi bastard deserved everything he got.’

      ‘Quit= e,’ Beesely agreed.

      Otto turned= to Jane. ‘Perhaps some fresh drinks would be nice.’ He spoke with = the confidence of a man used to giving orders and managing people. She glanced = to Beesely for confirmation, and her boss nodded. They waited until she had le= ft before resuming.

      ‘Some details are, perhaps, not for her ears,’ Otto suggested to Beesely, w= ho agreed with a nod.

  =     ‘So how much was the old bastard worth then?’ Johno loudly asked.

      Beesely sco= wled at him, but seemed keen to know that as well.

      ‘Perh= aps if I start at the beginning,’ Otto offered. ‘Gunter was an officer= in the Wehrmacht towards the end of the war. Not an SS officer or camp guard, = or anything of that nature, he was a coward and avoided the Russian front by working as an undercover agent in Switzerland, spying on Allied embassies, = and depositing money and works of art for Nazi party members and high ranking officers into Swiss banks.’

      ‘So he wasn’t a Nazi then?’ Johno puzzled.

      ‘Not technically,’ Beesely admitted. ‘But back then any German soldi= er was called a ‘Nazi’, and Gunter had a Swiss passport as well, s= o he could have sat out the war instead of volunteering to join up.’<= /o:p>

       Otto continued, ‘He was from = a rich family to start with, inheriting a thirty-five percent share in a Swiss munitions factory when he was just fifteen, bequeathed by his uncle whom he helped each summer. He did not need to work ... or fight. He was already ri= ch towards the end of the war, when his activities depositing money and works = of art for Nazi officials flourished. It was not lost on him that many of these officers might not survive the war, so he kept copies of numbered Swiss accounts, branches, and details of what was deposited. It is also certain t= hat in 1945, even though he was only twenty, he helped many of his contacts esc= ape to Switzerland, only to murder them in his safe houses. Their riches fell i= nto his hands.

      ‘It i= s fair to say that he cleaned up, as you English say it. He may well have killed upwards of fifty people, taking over their bank accounts. Since he opened the accounts, no one at the banks would question him. And he held a genuine Swiss passport.’

      ‘How&= #8217;s this Grunter wanker related to you, Boss?’ Johno queried.<= /span>

=       Otto answered the question, ignoring Johno’s deliberate mispronunciation, ‘Gunter’s older sister travelled to England in 1937. The sister, Guette – a Danish name - changed her first name to Gillian and married Sir Morris’s brother, Robert. They were both killed in a car crash in 1965.’

      ‘Tenu= ous bleeding link,’ Johno pointed out.

=       Otto turned= to address Johno directly. ‘In the eyes of the law it is still the only = link to a living relative.’ Turning back to Beesely, he added, ‘Gunt= er seems to have had a series of mistresses, and possibly some illegitimate children, who were rumoured to have been killed.’

      Beesely ran= a hand over his bald scalp. ‘All that money in 1945, it must be worth a great deal by now.’

      ‘I to= ld you,’ Ricky emphasised as he walked around the table to pour himself = another cup of tea. ‘He’s the world’s richest man, and he’s here to give it all to you.’

      Beesely stu= died Otto. ‘Is there more?’

      ‘A gr= eat deal.’

=       Jane re-appeared with food, fresh tea and coffee. She attended each of them in t= urn as this ‘board meeting’ seemed to pause. She even diligently ga= ve Otto’s driver tea and biscuits, before making her excuses and leaving= the room.

      Otto contin= ued, ‘Just after the end of the war, Gunter made several trips into Germany and Austria to recover gold, currency, and other valuables. He recovered a = great deal of gold and was the keen - how you say - cave explorer man. And= he was no fool, not keen to spend his money.&= nbsp; He invested wisely, trained himself in the stock markets and currency markets, employed researchers to help him pick growth stocks, and he soon h= it upon the idea of industrial espionage - he had the contacts and the skills,= and he was not afraid to break the law or kill people.

‘The company that he created,= an investment bank, soon started to make a great deal of money around the worl= d. As soon as anyone started asking questions, they would be told that this Sw= iss trading group was acting on behalf of third parties, not themselves, and Sw= iss banking laws did the rest. Secrecy was assured.

‘He put spies into many compa= nies, large companies; IBM, Ford, the petrol companies. And these sleeper agents = were there for thirty to forty years. He used their intelligence data well, but never became greedy. He was always as discreet as a Swiss banker, as we say. Eventually, he came to own several large banks and handled the investments = of a great many happy foreign investors. He grew three distinct businesses: the banks, the investment house and an intelligence gathering and security agency.’

      ‘What happened to the intelligence agency?’ Johno keenly enquired.

      Otto crease= d one cheek, a sly smile forming.

      ‘Oh .= .. shit,’ Beesely let out, his eyes narrowing. Johno straightened, Ricky grinning to himself with his head lowered.

      Otto proudly explained, ‘They are all still running, and going from strength to strength. They have been under my direct control for the past six months, u= nder my indirect control with Gunter for the past twenty years. I was formerly h= ead of the banking group, but then moved five years ago to help organize the ot= her branches.’

      ‘Oh .= .. hell,’ Beesely let out.

      ‘Boss= ?’ Johno asked, now concerned.

      Beesely ask= ed, ‘This Swiss espionage company … does it have a name just two characters long?’

      Otto smiled. ‘There are not many people outside of Switzerland who know that, and = most of them are … well … not sure what it is, or what it does.̵= 7;

      ‘Is industrial espionage still its main concern?’ Beesely asked, standing= and stretching.

      ‘It w= as, but we have branched out in recent years to private security work in Europe, transporting clients and their valuables discreetly, offering security advi= ce and assistance to companies, to casinos, and some third world governments. = As well as keeping Switzerland as the politicians in Switzerland desire to keep it; quiet, discreet, and free of terrorists and criminals.’

      ‘Unle= ss they can pay,’ Beesely suggested.

      ‘Payi= ng criminal clients are not treated in the same way as non-paying criminals,’ Otto admitted.

      Johno finis= hed his biscuit. ‘So what’s it called?’ he asked no one in particular.

      ‘K2,&= #8217; Otto informed him. ‘An unofficial name I gave it after climbing the mountain, K2.’

      Johno perke= d up, himself a former climber in the Army. ‘You climb at that standard?= 217;

      Ricky shot = in, ‘Otto climbed Everest in 1991!’

=       Johno now saw the ‘pinhead Swiss banker type’ in a new light, and now= with a great deal of respect.

Beesely stepped up to him, Johno ra= ising his head. ‘You remember me mentioning a secret organization in Switzerland, one that the Yanks and the Brits could never find anything abo= ut, a group that ties naked people to chairs and then sets fire to them?’=

=       Johno snapped upright, glancing at Otto before turning back to Beesely. ‘Them?’

      Beesely rai= sed his eyebrows for emphasis and nodded. ‘Them. Sitting having tea and biscuits in our home.’

      ‘Shit= ,’ Johno slowly let out. He glanced over his shoulder at Otto’s driver. ‘Hey, Swiss fuck.’ The man blinked. ‘If you’re gunna kill me, stick a banana up my arse; it’ll give the mortician somethin= g to laugh about!’

      Ricky chuck= led.  

‘So,’ Beesely asked his visitor as he finally sat back down. ‘Why bother to involve me at all? You seem to have things under control?’

      Otto ran a = finger right around the four sides of the envelope in front of him. ‘I grew = up thinking my father was a Nazi who murdered dozens of people; men, women and children. Then to discover that my grandmother and mother were Jewish, that= my supposed father killed my mother … it was not a good time for me. And then, to discover that my biological father was a real life hero of epic proportions - a decorated Guards officer, hero officer of the SAS, twenty y= ears in British Intelligence and still going strong at eighty. And the more rese= arch I conducted, the better I felt about myself. Meeting Richard convinced me t= hat contacting you was the right thing to do. After the story of Kosovo I was convinced, convinced that you should head K2, and not me.’

 

* * *

 

= ‘Henry, it’s Kirkpatrick.’

=       ‘You = sound ... flustered?’

=       ‘Our English friend and our Swiss friends.’

‘Oh?’=

‘We just received an intercept from Bern, Switzerland, an email intercept with all the right keywords. Tha= nk God for the advent of the Internet, and the far-sightedness of the NSA!R= 17;

=       ‘And?= ’ Henry quietly nudged.

=       Kirkpatrick paused. ‘A Bern solicitor being retained to help validate an inheritance.’

=       Another pau= se preceded, ‘Impossible.’

=       ‘Appa= rently not,’ Kirkpatrick insisted.

=       ‘Dear= God, if he got together with them!’

=       ‘We n= eed to take steps ... and quickly.’

=       Henry’= ;s laboured breathing could be heard down the phone. ‘Do so, cover all t= he bases, and prepare to withdraw our exposed assets.’=

=  

4

=  

Beesely’s eyes widened. ‘Head up K2? Me!’

      Otto shrugg= ed slightly. ‘Yes, why not. You are the best qualified, and it needs a re-structuring. It needs –’

      ‘It n= eeds direction,’ Beesely cut in with, now staring out of focus and thinking. ‘It needs… a purpose.’

      Otto formed= a thin smile. ‘Yes, it needs direction and purpose. Why have power and money if it does not do anything… constructive?’

=       ‘MI6 = would have kittens,’ Beesely stated, glancing at Ricky.

=       Ricky grinn= ed and lifted his eyebrows in emphasis. ‘Wait till they discover the size of K2!’

=       ‘Oh?&= #8217; Beesely asked, a question in his look.

=       Ricky added, ‘Two thousand staff in twenty countries, plus contracted staff. About four hundred front line agents.’

=       ‘Jesu= s,’ Beesely let out. ‘They won’t just be pissed off at me, they’ll be… somewhat concerned!’=

‘Screw ‘em, Boss. They = tried to screw you over, and they left Johno up the creek in Kosovo.’<= /o:p>

=       ‘We k= new the risks,’ Johno stated.

      ‘Yeah= ,’ Ricky agreed. ‘But there’s a shit load you don’t know.’ Ricky turned to Beesely for permission to continue. Beesely si= ghed, and sat back. A wave of his hand told Ricky to go ahead. ‘Sir Morris spent close to a million squids of his own money to get you out. He offered= me money, which I did not take. Before Kosovo I didn’t know who y= ou were, Johno, I just knew that Sir Morris was turning hell inside out to organize a rescue.

‘He was officially ord= ered not to, on threat of prison. Or worse. So he got a crew together. They help= ed me to the border, I had a guide to your last known position - poor fellow getting blown away just as we reached you - then Sir Morris offered the Yan= ks top secret info about MI6 activities in Saudi Arms deals, stuff they wanted= to know. The Yanks only then agreed to fly you out. If he got caught he could = have faced life in prison, or the death penalty for treason. <= /p>

      ‘He p= aid for that plane out of Italy, and your hospital bills. He even put a gun to = the head of an Army communications officer to get your last known position. And= I mean, gun to the head, literally - scared the Rupert to death. There= was an enquiry an all afterwards. Fortunately, Sir Morris knew where the bodies were buried. He told head boy cock-sucker in the Foreign Office that he wou= ld talk if he got charged.’

      Johno took = it in, thinking, before addressing Beesely. ‘You felt guilty about sending me into Kosovo?’

      ‘Not quite,’ Ricky suggested with a sigh. ‘Perhaps someone should te= ll the poor fool. Now … seems like a good time.’=

      Johno turne= d his head. ‘Tell me what, pineapple face?’

      ‘Shall I?’ Otto offered.

      ‘Did Richard tell you?’ Beesely angrily demanded.

      ‘No. = K2 is … very efficient,’ Otto smugly replied.

      ‘Tell= me what?’ Johno repeated, being ignored.

      Beesely bre= athed in slowly as he considered the face of his newfound son. ‘This is goi= ng to be a turning point, for many things, and for many people.’ He lowe= red his head and sighed. ‘Today will be the last day as we were.’ He faced Otto. ‘Go ahead then, let’s see what you think you know,’ he prompted without any hint of malice.

      Otto turned squarely to Johno. ‘Sir Morris went to so much trouble to get you out= of Kosovo … because you are his illegitimate son, my half-brother.’= ; It took a while to sink in, Ricky and Otto watching Johno’s reaction. Or lack of it.

      Johno focus= ed on Beesely, his brow slowly creasing. ‘You … you’re my ̷= 0; real father?’ Beesely nodded, appearing tired. Johno looked almost studious as he continued to think. ‘Well,’ he sighed with a resigned look, ‘that explains a hell of lot. I used to think I had a guardian angel, back in the early days in the Army. I should have been court-martialled twice –’

      T= hree … times,’ Beesely slipped in.

      Johno thoug= ht back. ‘Three times? So that was you … getting me off?= 217; Beesely gave him a quick nod. ‘And that strange NAAFI raffle I won?’ Johno probed. Again his employer nodded. Johno took a big breat= h. ‘Always wondered why you kept me on, all the hassle I gave you.’= ;

Give … me. Hass= le you give me,’ Beesely quietly, but firmly corrected.

Johno rubbed his moustache. ‘Thirty grand a year to be your driver when you hardly go out, I shou= ld have figured that one.’ He stared out of focus for a moment. ‘W= ell … if it’s not a stupid question, why didn’t you say anyth= ing before?’ He focused on his father. ‘I’m not a frigging kid.’

      Beesely tur= ned to Otto, for Otto to answer. Johno’s new half-brother began, ‘Beca= use you would have been a target, had anyone known your connection to a senior manager in MI6.’ He turned back to Beesely for confirmation, acknowle= dged by a brief smile.

      Johno remai= ned studious. ‘So my mum Barbara and you … shit!’ He screwed = up his face. ‘Yuk! And that wanker of a step-dad I had…’

      ‘Yuk?= ’ Beesely repeated.

      Otto keenly= cut in with, ‘That man used to beat you and your mother, so Sir Morris had him jailed on the made-up charges. When he was out of jail –’

      ‘Yuk?= ’ Beesely quietly repeated, being ignored.

      ‘I de= cked the wanker,’ Johno finished, focused on no one in particular. ‘I was big enough then.’ He turned to Beesely. ‘And that money my mother got from some dead relative?’

      ‘Yes,= ’ Otto confirmed. ‘It was Beesely. He wanted you to go to college, but = you joined the Army instead.’

      ‘Coll= ege!’ Ricky laughed.

      ‘Piss off!’ Johno retorted, still deep in thought.

Beesely wasn’t quite sure wha= t he had expected after all these years; tears, big hugs, lots of shouting about ‘lost years’. He should have known better.

Johno addressed Otto, but pointed a finger at Beesely. ‘So, when he finally croaks, how much do I get?’

      Ricky laugh= ed so loud that Jane came back in. Even Beesely began to laugh, and Otto joined i= n.

      ‘What= ?’ Johno asked, looking from face to face and reaching for a sandwich.

=  

5

=  

Half an hour later, and Johno and Otto were stood talking about climbing, a litt= le awkward in knowing quite how to deal with each other. Johno worked hard on suppressing his natural urge to take the piss out of this ‘suited pin head, but was starting to develop a great deal of respect for Otto’s climbing achievements. Not to mention the cross-country skiing, the downhill skiing, ski jumping, competition shooting, canoeing…

      Beesely sto= od with Ricky at the other end of the room, teacup and saucer in Beesely’= ;s hands, a mug in Ricky’s hands. Beesely asked, ‘Have you been to command central in Switzerland?’

Ricky’s expression suggested = it was an interesting place. ‘Big underground office beneath an old castle o= n a lake,’ he whispered.

‘Castle?’ Beesely repea= ted. ‘Is there a cave with a bald fellow stroking a white cat? Goes by the name of Doctor No?’

      Ricky laugh= ed. ‘There is a cave; the whole damn command centre is underground.’= ;

      ‘Is it linked to Swiss Military Intelligence, the UNA?’

      Ricky edged closer. ‘I think these boys at K2 own the UNA!’

      Beesely nod= ded to himself as he thought. ‘Any mention of P-26?’=

      ‘What= ’s that?’ Ricky whispered.

 &nb= sp;    ‘Never mind.’ He shot a quick glance toward Otto. ‘What else have you seen?’

‘The castle is a hotel type p= lace with about ten, fifteen palatial guest rooms, like a five star retreat in t= he country. There’re rooms for you, Johno and Jane ... plus a fleet of R= ange Rovers just to make you feel at home.’

Beesely raised his eyebrows, tipped= his head forwards and asked a silent question.

Ricky grinned. ‘Likes to plan ahead, does our Mister Otto. All the guards use old MP5s and Browning pisto= ls so that Johno will feel at home.’

      ‘You = trust him?’ Beesely pressed, glancing again at Otto.

      ‘As m= uch as you and Johno,’ Ricky answered. ‘The thing to keep in mind R= 30; is that if you don’t inherit the bank and K2, Otto is out of a= job and the state steps in. Add to the fact that Marianne was Jewish, and poor = old Otto is on a knife-edge; don’t know how the fucker sleeps at night. He didn’t need to come here and chat nicely, this guy could snap his fin= gers and make you lot do whatever he wanted. The power this guy has makes MI6 lo= ok like a bunch of frigging girl guides; two thousand staff, offices all over Europe. Frightening, some of the things he can arrange.’<= /o:p>

      Beesely tip= ped his head. ‘Such as?’

      Ricky leant= in closer. ‘He lifted all the old MI6 files relating to you. They’= re in the fucking car.’

      Beesely brightened. ‘Ah, now that would be interesting reading.’

      Ricky grinn= ed. ‘Thought so.’

      Beesely gla= nced over at his two boys. Whispering, he enquired, ‘What do you think motivates him?’

      ‘He w= ants to be a spymaster. Can’t blame him, we all need a hobby, and it beats being a desk-jockey in some sterile fucking bank. And it seems that this Gu= nter wanker treated him badly; no hugs at bedtime. Kid grew up needing to prove something, now he’s got the chance. And it’s you he want= s to prove it to.’

      Beesely nod= ded to himself, facing Otto. He asked, ‘Seen anything of our good friend Gen= eral Rose lately?’

      ‘If I= did I’d deck the winker. He gave me the cold shoulder ten years ago ̵= 1; only offering me the shitty missions that no one else would touch.’

      ‘Beca= use you wouldn’t spy on me,’ Beesely put in, sighing.

      ‘He n= ever did trust you.’

=       Beesely led Ricky by the arm back to the table. ‘Gentlemen, your seats please. Jane, come sit by me. And Jane, no matter what we discuss from now on, I wa= nt you to be a part of things.’ They all sat, and they all deferred leadership to Beesely. Beesely took a breath. ‘To business. Otto, I presume a man of your abilities has a plan he is working to, some … objectives?’

      ‘I ha= ve, yes,’ Otto answered, glancing from face to face as Jane made ready her pad, ready to take notes. ‘But they are open to debate and to … guidance. You, sir, are infinitely more experienced than I in running intelligence operations. John is more experienced in special operations of a military nature.’

      ‘John= -oh,’ Johno corrected.

      Otto glance= d at him. ‘Of course, John-oh.’

      Beesely too= k the pad and pen from Jane. ‘Well, let’s hear the main points, and we can kick the ideas around from there.’

      Otto cleare= d his throat, the first sign all night of any nerves in this company. ‘The first objective is to review current structures and operations on a macro scale, and to define some directions. I would suggest that the principal ai= m is to continue to make money, to facilitate the other operations that we may desire to be involved with.’

      ‘Yes,= of course,’ Beesely commended. ‘Need to oil the wheels. Does K2 ma= ke a profit from its own activities?’

      ‘No, = only around twenty five percent of costs are met directly. The rest are met indirectly by the investment arms; stocks and shares, patents, direct dividends.’

      ‘And = the investment arm benefits greatly from intelligence garnered by K2 operatives= and sleepers?’ Beesely asked, Otto nodding. Beesely seemed deep in thought for a moment, easing back. ‘Do any of those operations take money away from the needy? Does anyone get hurt?’

      ‘Not typically, certainly less so in recent years. If you mean to ask - are shareholders adversely affected when we benefit - then only to a small degr= ee. It is mostly institutional size investors that may lose money to us. Natura= lly, if we deliberately bankrupted a company for some benefit ... then the staff= and investors would be hurt.’

      ‘Woul= d we do that?’ Beesely gingerly enquired.

=       ‘Such= a move would be high profile, which is not our style. There would have to be a special reason for it,’ Otto explained.

      Beesely interlaced his fingers, leaning forwards and resting his weight on his forearms. ‘Such as a factory selling replica guns that they know can easily be turned into real ones on British streets?’

      Otto seemed= a little confused. ‘I am not sure...’

      Beesely hel= ped him out. ‘There’s a specific factory in the Czech Republic that I’m thinking about, read about just the other day in The Times, Briti= sh Government not too happy.’

      Otto pulled= a large phone from inside his jacket.

      Johno snort= ed, ‘Are those frigging things supposed to be getting smaller? Very ninet= een nineties! Got a fucking filofax as well?’

      Ricky tapped Johno’s arm. ‘Advanced satellite phone, GPS, homing signal, mak= es the tea...’

      ‘Hand= y,’ Johno offered, deciding to shut up.

      Otto presse= d a button and began to talk without waiting. ‘Czech company … makes replica firearms … has recently been criticized by the British Government.’ He paused, listened, and then held the phone away from h= is ear. ‘There are three such factories.’ He raised the phone to h= is ear once more and listened for a minute. ‘One is owned by a Chinese parent company … one is struggling financially… the last is the= one being criticized, name of GNG, owned by a German businessman.’ He put= the phone to his ear again. ‘I see. He also has a stake in the second factory.’ Otto held the phone down. ‘How would you ̷= 0; wish us to proceed?’

      Beesely lea= nt forwards slightly. ‘How would you normally handle this, if your objective was to stop the flow of these guns around Europe?’

      Otto consid= ered the scenario. ‘I would … buy a majority stake in each company, discreetly through several proxy holdings, then insist that the gun’s design be altered –’

      Beesely straightened. ‘Which would all take many months. There’s nothing wrong with your approach, commendably professional, stealthy and measured -= as I would expect. But these guns are ending up in Manchester slums every day.= A few more months means a few more lives lost.’

      ‘How = would you wish us to proceed?’ Otto repeated.

      ‘The factory owned by the Chinese -’ Beesely began.

      ‘Burn= the frigging thing down!’ Ricky suggested.

      ‘What= I was going to say,’ Beesely explained, a reproachful glance toward Ricky, ‘was to burn down all three at the same time, making them all look li= ke insurance claims. The Chinese we do not like, the struggling factory is a p= rime case for arson, and this German fella should know better than to dabble in = such matters.’

      ‘So b= urn them!’ Johno recommended.

      ‘I se= cond that,’ Ricky offered with a smirk.

      Beesely rai= sed his arm, ‘I vote in favour of the motion put forward by the board.= 217;

      Otto lifted= the phone back to his ear. ‘Burn all three factories on the same night, making it appear as if deliberate arson, implicating the German businessman owner for his two.’

      ‘May = as well make it all three,’ Beesely suggested with a cheeky grin.

      Otto shrugg= ed his shoulders. Into the phone, he ordered, ‘Make all three look as if it = were the same person. Get back to me tomorrow with a detailed plan, to be execut= ed the day after.’

      ‘Just= like that?’ Johno asked. ‘Sweet.’

      ‘Just= like that,’ Ricky repeated with a confident smile.

Otto hung up, looking Beesely direc= tly in the eye. ‘Are you testing me, or testing K2?’=

Beesely leant forwards. ‘A bi= t of both, my lad. How better to get to know you and your outfit’s capabilities … than some practical work, eh?’=

Otto considered Beesely’s wor= ds. ‘Are we, then, to define K2 as an instrument of political good in Europe?’

Beesely offered two open palms. ‘Can you think of a better use for it? It’s not like you need a ‘stay behind’ army any more, no threat from the Russians these days.’

‘Stay behind army?’ Joh= no queried. ‘What the fuck’s that, an Army that stays in bed all day?’

‘Something you should know, m= y boy. MI6 and the SAS trained them, at least they used to up until the nineties.’

‘I had a Swiss guy embedded w= ith my squadron for five weeks in 1981,’ Ricky informed the group. ‘No= t up to much.’

‘No, they’ve never fire= d a shot in anger,’ Beesely pointed out. He explained to Johno, ‘Following the Second World War, the Swiss set up a small ‘resistance force’, based on British SOE operations there during the war. In fact, I recall one British SOE instructor retiring there.’= ;

‘To do what?’ Johno enq= uired.

‘Create potential resistance fighters,’ Beesely explained. ‘Pop up after the Russians invade= and blow up bridges.’

‘Like Gladio in Italy?’= Ricky asked.

Beesely smiled. ‘Guess you= actually read a book once in a while.’ As the words trailed off he sh= ot a look at Johno, who did not notice. Now he made direct eye contact with Otto. ‘Did K2 evolve from your P-26 unit, underground resistance army on paper?’

‘Let me pronounce this correctly,’ Otto began. ‘You may think that, I cannot comment.’

Beesely smiled and corrected him. &= #8216;You may think that, I could not possibly comment.’ =

Otto gave a small bow. ‘In pa= rt. K2 did not evolve directly from these old men. As you say … army on paper. K2 evolved from Gunter’s ... er … paranoid?’<= /o:p>

Paranoia,’ Bees= ely corrected.

Otto considered his father carefull= y for a moment, seemed to come to a decision, then opened his case. He produced t= hree phones of the same style as his, each having been labelled in advance. He s= lid one across the table to Beesely. ‘Press the green button and you will= be instantly talking with a senior assistant in operations. You can ask questi= ons of a research nature, instigate studies or obtain the information on most a= ny subject, person or business. You can obtain the private phone numbers of any individual, including Presidents and movie stars. You can also order action= s of almost any nature. The signal is encoded beyond the reach of any agency, privacy is assured.’

Beesely studied it through his bifo= cals. ‘This one has bigger buttons than the others.’

‘Yes –’ Otto bega= n.

‘Because ya a blind old git,&= #8217; Johno suggested.

‘Thanks for that,’ Bees= ely replied without detracting from his study of the phone.

Otto handed Johno a phone, but held= on to it. ‘Please ... do not abuse this.’

Beesely squinted at Otto over the t= op of his glasses, and then turned to Johno. ‘Johno, it’s for business use … or we will have a problem.’

‘OK, OK, keep your panties on.’

Otto handed one to Jane, for which = she thanked him as if receiving a Christmas present. ‘If you are ever in danger, press the red button and hold for a few seconds. It will send your exact position to operations. We can find you quickly.’

Beesely had been listening to the t= one of that last sentence with great interest. ‘Jane, you were not in the room when Otto revealed a few in= teresting details to us.’

‘Oh?’ she said, genuine= ly interested in everything happening.

‘Otto is my biological son, a= s you heard earlier, but so is Johno.’

She seemed shocked, glancing from o= ne face to another. With a puzzled look, she finally asked, ‘So … = how did that happen?’

‘Do you want me to show you s= ome pictures?’ Johno offered.

‘No, not that … I mean –’

‘It was the sixties,’ B= eesely offered by way of excuse. ‘I was rushing around London playing secret agent, believing that I could do just about anything and everything. Anyway= , I was not as careful as I should have been, and sex was a great antidote to stress in the face of imminent death.’

‘Must have been very stressful,’ Johno quipped without looking up.

Beesely took a deep breath, taking = hold of Jane’s hand. ‘Jane, I have an apology to make, and today see= ms to be the day to make it. Today seems to be the turning point I had always believed I would avoid. I always believed you would all read my Will and … understand.’ He took in their faces. ‘That might have b= een cowardly, perhaps, but simpler … for all your sakes.’ He faced = her and announced, ‘Jane, I am also your father.’=

=  

6

=  

Johno looked up, and stared across at Jane. ‘For fuck’s sake,’ = he muttered. ‘Anyone checked that stray cat? She had a litter last year!’

Otto had not reacted, he already kn= ew. Ricky was perplexed, and Jane sat quietly stunned.

Beesely held her cold hand, ignoring Johno. ‘I’m sorry for not having told you before –’=

‘Didn’t apologise to me,’ Johno muttered, loud enough for them to hear.<= /p>

Beesely ignored him. He continued, = in a soft voice, ‘Because it would have made you a target for kidnap and blackmail. If people thought that you were just a secretary then you would = have been safe, and Johno just a driver in the same fashion.’

‘I can look after myself!R= 17; Johno angrily pointed out.

‘That’s not the point!&= #8217; Beesely rounded on him. ‘It would have made you a target. I was invol= ved in stuff that none of you know about, very dangerous stuff, pissing off just about everyone from the CIA to the KGB.’ He took a breath. ‘Let’s just leave it at that for now.’<= /p>

He turned back to Jane and stroked = her decidedly cold hands. ‘I have always looked after you as if you were = my own, so I don’t think things would have been any different between us= if you had known.’ He brightened. ‘And besides, who else would give you a job?’

She seemed mildly offended. ‘= My typing is not that bad.’

‘It’s legendary in intelligence circles,’ Beesely pointed out with a pained expression. ‘And not for its accuracy.’&nb= sp; She gave him an embarrassed look before lowering her head. Beesely continued, ‘My bosses in the Circus used to mark it with a red pen and send it back, points out of ten. The only benefit came when the KGB were intercepting my mail. They had trouble translating it, thinking the misspellings were some sort of code.’ He fought back a smile. ‘= They spent months, apparently, trying to decipher it.’

Ricky used all his strength not to = laugh out loud.

Jane forced back a tear, not being = the most composed person at the best of times. ‘I often wondered why you = kept me around. Everyone else was always telling me how useless I was.’

Johno had wandered around to where = the sandwiches were. Now he stood behind her and placed a hand on her shoulder. ‘You make a great cuppa. And in the summer you can chill my beer just= by holding the can.’

Otto placed a hand on her arm. R= 16;I have been looking forward to getting to know my family. I am very glad that= you are my half-sister.’

She lifted her head, focusing on Jo= hno. ‘See, he appreciates me!’

‘What?’ Johno protested with a mouth full of sandwich. ‘I said you make a great cuppa, stroppy tart.’

Beesely turned back to Otto. ‘= ;The apple fell far from the tree with that one.’ They both watched Johno = as he crammed more food onto his plate than it had been designed for.

‘Yeah, well the tree dropped = its seed, pulled up its roots and pissed off to another orchard,’ Johno pointed out.

Beesely had to concede, ‘Fair point.’ He turned back to Jane. ‘Will you be alright?’

She sat hunched, almost crying. ‘What happens to me now?’

Otto jumped in and answered with, ‘Now you will be protected, looked after in every way. You will want = for nothing - houses, cars, money, food - just tell me what you need. You will = not have to worry again.’

Beesely was quietly taken aback as = the authority was temporarily stripped away from him, but also delighted to see that Otto purported to be so protective towards her.

Otto turned to Ricky. ‘If you= can go outside, I will send for the others.’ Ricky, and Otto’s driv= er, stood and stepped outside.

‘Others?’ Beesely nervo= usly enquired.

‘My staff,’ Otto reassu= red him, a hint of a smile. ‘If you would please step outside for a moment,’ he formally requested. Facing Jane, he said, ‘Please p= ut on a coat, we may be some time.’

Again, Beesely felt odd that someon= e else was looking out for Jane; for the past forty years that had been his job. O= tto made a call, and by time they reached the gate several cars were coming down the lane, followed by the headlights of many other vehicles.

‘Billy Smarts’ Circus?&= #8217; Johno asked. ‘Tent on the lawn?’

The first vehicle arrived, a Range = Rover.

‘For you, Johno.’ Otto gestured him towards it.

‘Not such a bad wanker after all,’ Johno muttered as he walked over to it, finding it brand new and customised, top of the range.

‘And for Jane,’ Otto sa= id as he gestured. Through the gate trundled a bright yellow Ford KA.<= /span>

Beesely smiled and turned to her. ‘That must be for you!’ he shouted over the noise building up outside his house.

Jane was delighted; the right colou= r, small and nippy, and she had always wanted one of these. She gave Otto a big hug from within a padded coat that appeared to be three sizes too big for h= er, before gingerly sitting in the car.

A Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, 1907, c= ame next, a beautiful antique of a car that Beesely stood admiring. He gestured= off to one side, smiling at Otto as the classic car was now parked at the edge = of the grass. Otto had followed Beesely to the ‘Roller’, halting t= he rest of the vehicles with a hand, the drivers of the prior vehicles now sto= od in a neat line by the main door to the house.

‘Collector’s piece,R= 17; Beesely stated through the open door. ‘It’s been lovingly restored.’

Otto explained, ‘It was impor= ted from a collector in southern France, where it was used for several movies. = All the details are in a … how you say … scrap book, in the = rear with a certificate of provenance.’

Beesely beamed as he clambered out, circling the car. ‘You know how to impress, my boy.’ He closed = the door, and turned to the line of vehicles in the lane. ‘And they are?’

‘Security and operations,R= 17; Otto stated, beckoning them in. ‘This house is not secure. When you or the others are in residence, there will be the round-of-the-clock security; cameras, lights, and dogs.’

Beesely watched the procession with= some concern; Otto had brought a small army.

‘Shall we go back inside, sir?’

Several Range Rovers, and two vans, halted on the gravel as Otto led Beesely back to the house. Back inside, Ot= to opened his briefcase as Beesely watched the commotion through the dining ro= om window.

‘This is for you.’ Otto handed Beesely a Swiss diplomatic passport, complete with suitable photogra= ph and signature, a worryingly neat piece of forgery.

‘My diplomatic skills are a l= ittle rusty,’ Beesely joked as he thumbed through the dark red booklet.

‘This property is now registe= red by the Swiss Diplomatic Corps as an official residence,’ Otto informed h= im as Johno wandered back in. ‘That means -’

Beesely cut in with, ‘That the police and security services could not enter, even with a warrant, if they = see me running naked round the house with a surface-air-missile on my shoulder.’

‘Who’d want to come in = with you naked!’ Johno quipped as Otto handed him a passport. ‘So wh= at can I do with this?’

‘Clobber whomsoever you like.= With impunity!’ Beesely pointed out.

Johno’s eyes widened. ‘Sweet.’

‘The worst that the police co= uld do would be to deport you to Switzerland,’ Beesely added, still thumb= ing through his.

Johno stuffed the passport inside h= is jacket pocket as Jane accepted hers.

Otto explained to them, ‘Ther= e will be a plaque on the front gate, and several signs around the fences. This ho= use is now off limits to British police and intelligence services. And I hold f= ull Assistant Ambassador status.’

Beesely looked up sharply. ‘Y= ou do?’

Otto smiled, barely visible. ‘= ;We work closely with the Swiss Government.’

‘Get out of jail cards all around,’ Johno announced to no one in particular, grabbing another sandwich.

‘May my people use your spare= rooms and the cottage?’ Otto asked.

Beesely nodded his agreement. ̵= 6;The cottage is a good idea, but it needs work –’<= /p>

‘Decorators and builders will arrive tomorrow.’

Beesely tipped his head. ‘Why…?’

‘To make the cottage more sui= table, to install a fence, to replace the windows in this house, and to install state-of-the-art security systems.’

‘Johno is good with those,= 217; Beesely pointed out.

‘Yes, I am aware. When we are= set up, Johno can inspect and test the systems.’ He took a file from his = case and handed it to Johno. It held detailed plans, very detailed plans; drawin= gs, sketches, and technical specifications.

Johno sat down with his sandwiches, another mug of tea, and began to read, occasionally mumbling to himself. Headlights flashed outside, gravel crunched under tyres, doors slammed, and dogs barked as Ricky slipped away on a job for Otto.

 

* * *

 

Johno bumped into Beesely coming out of the toilet around 2am. Beesely stood read= y to head back to his room, when Johno quietly asked, ‘Do you think this is all on the level?’

      Beesely tur= ned to him. ‘I think ... I think that if we considered this some giant trap = then we are deluding ourselves as to our worth to the world, and to our potential enemies. With me at the head of K2 we most certainly are in clear and present danger, as they say. Take away K2 and rewind a few hours, and y= ou and I, boy, we are not worth two bent pennies to anyone. No one would go to this much trouble to screw with us, we’re yesterdays’ news.

      ‘But,= it seems like life has dealt us four aces on our last hand of the night. Anyway, starting tomorrow I’m going to test our new best friend to destructio= n. And have some fun doing it! First, I’ll test his Jewish heritage, something I know a great deal about. If he isn’t on the level he̵= 7;ll have a heart attack before noon with what I’ve got planned.’

      Johno nodde= d his acceptance of that idea, heading off back to bed, Beesely unhappily noting Johno’s Simpson’s shorts, and a t-shirt that announced: ‘= Does not play well with other children.’

 


 

Fun and games

 

1

=  

James Kirkpatrick, CIA, could hardly believe what he was hearing. He listened har= der to the call, his eyes narrowing. ‘Say again.’=

      ‘Obse= rvation is now limited on primary target. The house now has continuous patrols, dog= s, motion sensors and laser movement kit. Plus the guards are armed, and they wander outside the fixed perimeter.’

‘Have you been compromised?&#= 8217;

‘Negative.’<= /span>

‘Withdraw. Stateside.’<= o:p>

‘Affirmative.’

Kirkpatrick eased back, deep into h= is chair, frowning hard. ‘What the hell is going on over there?’ He raised the phone. ‘I want a fresh assessment made of K2’s defen= sive and offensive capabilities, staff and equipment. As fast as you can, please.’

 

* * *

 

Otto had spent the night in the = guest room. The previous evening he had confessed to not needing much sleep, which was just as well, because Johno’s intermittent snoring in the next ro= om had kept him awake. The toilet had been flushed many times during the night, the old cistern taking ten noisy minutes to fill back up. Dawn saw the arri= val of several wood pigeons on the branch outside Otto’s window, cooing a= way and leaving him looking a little haggard at breakfast. His suit was immacul= ate, but his eyes betrayed the fatigue.

He said nothing of the fact that he= heard Johno scream out during the night, or Jane sobbing. He would also say nothi= ng of the fact that he thought he heard Johno sobbing.

Otto and Beesely had chatted conspiratorially next to the fireplace the previous evening, working their = way through several glasses of wine and finishing off with the best malt whisky. Johno had pestered, poked, prodded and generally questioned at length the n= ew security staff, testing most of the equipment and breaking just a few small items. Now he was having a well-deserved lie-in.

Jane now made Otto and Beesely brea= kfast, having already insisted that the passing guards have a toasted muffin each. Their dogs were grateful.

Otto reached over the small kitchen= table and helped himself to more of Jane’s ‘special’ scrambled eggs, with potato wedges and tomatoes in. He noticed Beesely’s gaze following his movements. Checking over his shoulder, Otto whispered, ‘= ;It is good, no?’

Beesely seemed unconvinced about Jane’s cooking and stuck to toast. ‘It should be a busy day, pl= enty of people to impress, and some to upset. If it is not a rude question, just= how much are we worth?’

Otto produced a wallet and removed = from it a neatly folded piece of paper.

‘There are way too many zeros= on there for me to understand, and it’s in European notation.’ Bee= sely grabbed a pen, slicing off groups of three zeros at a time. He swallowed. ‘That is a lot of money.’

‘More than the British Govern= ment spends on its military in a year.’

Beesely seemed concerned. ‘A = sum … which would make us a target for those capable of taking it away fr= om us.’

Otto confidently smiled and shook h= is head. ‘First, only a handful of people know this detail. Second, there are triple redundant safety measures in place … and the Swiss Governm= ent would step in if they suspected foul play. I give you the example: if you o= r I are killed, automatically many millions are paid to three independent agenc= ies in three separate countries, who will investigate with aggression and vigou= r. If they suspect foul play, a further sum of money is transferred to deal wi= th those they suspect. The people who work for me know that killing me would achieve nothing for them.’

‘As thorough as a Swiss banker,’ Beesely commended, accepting more tea from Jane. He told her, ‘Wake up Boy Wonder in an hour, we have visitors this afternoon.̵= 7;

‘I have a helicopter at your disposal,’ Otto suddenly announced.

‘My boy, first rule of negoti= ation: let them come to you. Keep the high ground, do not go cap-in-hand.’ Beesely could see that Otto did not quite understand. ‘Watch and lear= n, my boy. Watch ...  and learn.&= #8217;

 

2

=  

Mossad, Israel’s Secret Intelligence Service, had been surprised by the call; concerned that Beesely had called their UK Section Head directly. The invitation had been cryptic, but urgent: Beesely had some vital intelligence for them, and a helicopter stood waiting at London Docklands Airport.<= /o:p>

Mr. Elle Rosen, the forty-eight yea= r old Section Head, quickly investigated Beesely. A call to ‘the institute’, Tel Aviv, had surprised him: he was to go ahead and meet = with Beesely, no further explanation given. Now, the low profile, and generally unknown Section Head – fronting as a mortgage broker, stepped down fr= om a K2 helicopter on Broadlands lawn with his assistant, after a twenty-minute flight from East London. As the helicopter disappeared over the lake, scattering the ducks and swans, Otto greeted Elle in poor, but appreciated Hebrew.

      ‘Germ= an?’ Elle puzzled.

      ‘Swiss Jew,’ Otto replied. ‘Not practising.’

      Elle shrugg= ed his shoulders and made a face.

Beesely shook his hand. ‘Do c= ome in, refreshments await us.’

As Elle followed Beesely towards the house, he carefully noted the guards, the dogs, and the building work, being stopped at the edge of the grass by his assistant pointing out a sensor half buried in the lawn; it was, after all, Israeli manufactured. They exchanged looks as they caught up.

‘You take your security seriously,’ Elle casually commented as they stepped into the house, a London-British accent with a little New York American mixed in.<= /span>

‘I take many things way too seriously,’ Beesely replied without stopping or looking around.<= /o:p>

After five minutes of obligatory pleasantries around the old oak table they finally sat, adjusted seats, and squared up to each other.

 &= nbsp;    ‘I’ve been … working with the CIA quite closely of late,’ Beesely beg= an, stirring his tea.

The Israelis again glanced at each = other. ‘Working with them … or for them?’ Elle enigmatically pro= bed, the faintest hint of a grin evident.

B= eesely offered Elle a look of candid, mock surprise. ‘I’m sure I have = no idea what you mean.’ Otto was not following. ‘Anyway, as you are probably aware –’ which he knew they weren’t. ‘- I = have recently become the head of a private security agency, headquartered in = 230; Zug, Switzerland.’

E= lle appeared as if he might say something before checking himself, a glance at Otto. His assistant stiffened.

B= eesely continued, ‘You have probably had your suspicions for some time.̵= 7;

      Elle simply acknowledged with an undetermined nod.

      ‘Yes … not much slips past your outfit.’ Beesely stirred his tea. ‘Anyway, I am not as young as I used to be, and I wish to change the = way we do things, become more pro-active as the Americans like to say. My organization has roughly two thousand staff –’

      ‘What= ?’ Elle questioned.

      Beesely mad= e firm eye contact. ‘I guess it’s grown a bit since you last checked u= p on us.’ Lowering his gaze again to his teaspoon, he continued, ‘But many of those are researchers, not front line agents, as you can imagine.’ The guests stared back. ‘Anyway, I have accumulated a substantial amount of money over the years, stashed it away in Swiss banks,= but now ... now I want to do more with it. And that’s where you chaps come in. I feel that I can help you.’

      ‘Help= us? How?’

      Beesely tur= ned his head towards Otto, who produced a document without taking his gaze off Elle. He handed it over. Beesely continued, ‘We’ve set up a Swi= ss bank account for you, untraceable, and one that you can use for operations = that your government and legislators - shall we say, may not get to know about.’

      Elle was pu= zzled, a heavy crease forming across his forehead. He put a finger on the sum and displayed the detail to his assistant.

      Beesely add= ed, ‘It’s more than we made available to the Americans, of course. = We did not want them asking too many questions. You gentlemen are far more discreet about stuff like this.’

      Elle nodded, still re-reading the page.

      ‘Now, gentlemen, there are a few little provisos that come with this piece of paper.’ Beesely slid it back. ‘There are a few things that you could do to help little old me. After all, you … are the professional= s, and I am just the keen amateur. First of all, we are based in Switzerland. Any operations by your good selves inside our borders and we would be ... most disappointing.’

Elle appeared as if he was about to object, but Beesely raised a hand.

‘Naturally, if there is some operation that needs to be conducted on Swiss soil then we will do it for y= ou; we have agents in every walk of life inside our borders. I am afraid I must insist, gentlemen. If you want our kind co-operation then you must not operate inside our borders. If you want the Iranian Embassy in Switzerland bugged, then we will do it for you. We … will not get caught.’

      Elle’= s eyes slowly widened at the cheek of that statement.

‘Do it for us?’ his ass= istant repeated.

=       Beesely tried to hide his amusement. ‘Yes, do it for you. We are very, very efficient at what we do, especially on our own patch.’ He pushed the paper back across the table. ‘And … we would have the odd reciprocal favour to ask. Someone followed there, someone killed here –’

      ‘Kill= ed?’ Elle’s assistant queried.

      ‘We d= o not piss about,’ Beesely sternly pointed out. ‘If you gentlemen are tailing an Arab suspect and he ducks across our borders, we’ll deliver him to Tel Aviv for you, dead or alive.’

      ‘I= 217;m just gunna feed the fucking mutts,’ broke the tension as Johno stepped out of the front door.

      Beesely for= ced a smile. ‘That’s my gardener. Now, you must stay for some food and some fishing.’

      ‘Fish= ing?’ Elle puzzled.

      ‘Yes,= in the lake, all set up for you. Chopper won’t be back for almost forty-= five minutes, our American friends popping down.’

      Elle tilted= his head. ‘CIA?’

      ‘Yes,= you probably know them.’

      After a few nibbles, some tea and pleasantries, Beesely took Elle for a long one-on-one session, chatting as they strolled around the house grounds, Elle’s assistants sitting by the lake and fishing.

 

* * *

 

‘Ah, I wonder if you can help me,’ Beesely said into his mobile. ‘I = am trying to reach the director of fundraising for your charity. That’s yourself? Good. I am an anonymous benefactor with ten million pounds about = to wing its way to you by electronic transfer from my Swiss bank account ̷= 0; yes … you’re welcome.

      ‘Well, here’s the thing. My dear lady wife died from breast cancer ... thanks ... and she had this idea before she left us. I want you to organize someth= ing for me for tomorrow in central London, and I shall release the funds today = on an agreement between us. Fine, OK, this is what I would like you to organize for me...’

 

Beesely had given Otto a firm directive, one that involved large sums of money, and would stretch over many years. It had been codenamed ‘Operation Clean= -up’ and was due to start soon.

      He had made numerous phone calls to perplexed individuals; a few senior police officers= he knew, a few retired SAS officers, and some ‘unpleasant operators̵= 7; as he had described them to Otto. Beesely would be buying guns, illegal str= eet guns.

=  

* * *

=  

= In Bern, Switzerland, The Zimbabwean Ambassador stood confused. So did his sta= ff. Their two shiny black limousines had been securely stored overnight in the spacious embassy garage as usual. But today was different. Today they were … pink, neatly and expertly re-sprayed, pink.

=       They walked around the vehicles. No paint spots were visible on the glass, the chrome w= ork, or on the garage floor. The paint gleamed, dry and shiny, a perfect gloss finish, diligently tested by the Ambassador himself. They stood and stared, already late for their meeting.

At Broadlands, Beesely held an A4 colour computer image, freshly printed off, roaring with laughter. Otto did= not understand what this use of K2 resources actually proved.=

 

3

=  

The London CIA Deputy Section Chief, Hamilton Burke Junior, followed the flight-plan of his Israeli colleagues to Broadlands, using the same helicop= ter. He too had checked out Beesely, and he too had been told to attend the meet= ing. As he landed, he could not have missed the men sat by the side of the lake, fishing.

His assistant tapped his arm and sp= oke into the headset as they unbuckled. ‘That’s the new Israeli Sec= tion Head for the UK.’ They exchanged glances.

      ‘The = guy looks pretty fucking relaxed. He a regular visitor?’

      Beesely sto= od waiting on the gravel, a direct path toward him keeping the Americans away = from talking to the Israelis. He waved to them as they cleared the rotor blades,= the two men finally straightened up. ‘So nice of you to pop down.’<= o:p>

      Burke wore a casual jacket over a polo t-shirt, covering a barrel chest, a neck the same girth as his head. With crew cut grey hair, he appeared to Beesely to be in= his fifties. The Americans glanced at the Israelis as the Israelis watched the Americans walking into the house.

      ‘You = do business with the Israelis,’ Burke noted, very matter of fact, as they assembled around the table. The used cups had been deliberately left, giving the impression of a long prior meeting.

      Jane steppe= d in, Beesely saying to her, ‘Shall we clear this lot away and start afresh?’ He gestured firmly for the two Americans to sit down. ‘Please, gentlemen, have a seat.’ Then, as an afterthought, he said, ‘Sorry, you were saying something about the Israelis? They like= the fishing, it gets them away from London.’

      ‘Sure= ,’ Burke agreed, his eyes taking in as much detail of the room as he could fin= d. ‘Love to fish myself,’ he announced whilst still checking out t= he room, managing to make it sound his least favourite activity, his accent no= w getting broader and heading west.

      ‘Exce= llent!’ Beesely boomed with a broad smile. ‘You’ll have to try the lake after the Israelis head back.’

      The helicop= ter roared past the house.

Beesely turned to Otto with a surpr= ised look. ‘Have they gone?’

Otto nodded.

‘And left the fishing gear on= the lake?’

Otto again nodded.

‘Bloody typical! Not the most diplomatic of people.’

      ‘That= ’s for sure,’ Burke blurted out, immediately regretting it.

      ‘As friendly as waiters in a Tel Aviv hotel,’ Beesely joked. They all lau= ghed, Burke’s laughter forced. Beesely continued to avoid eye contact with = his guests as Jane brought out tea, plus coffee for the Americans in the exact flavours and measures of milk and sugar as the guests favoured. It was not missed on them, and they exchanged uneasy glances.

 &= nbsp;    Burke sipped his coffee, the exact Colombian blend he had brought with him to the= UK. It remained hard to find outside of South America. ‘So, how’s D= ame Helen working out for the Circus? If … you’re still in the loop?’=

=       Otto tapped Beesely’s arm, Beesely ignoring the dig from Burke. ‘She wants to make an appointment and pop down. Today if possible,’ he lie= d.

      ‘What= is this, open house day?’ Beesely feigned.

      Otto contin= ued lying, ‘She wants us to have another crack at that Russian problem.&#= 8217;

      Beesely nod= ded, deep in thought, then edged closer to Burke and whispered, ‘We’= re holding some Russian computer guys.’

      Burke nodde= d his apparent understanding. Of what, remained to be determined.

      Johno opene= d the front door, ‘Bastards bit me when I fed them, then one shat on my sho= es. I’m gunna get a cattle prod.’

=       Beesely played back the image in his mind, before realising how the Americans could have interpreted Johno’s words. ‘So, to business, gentlemen.= 217;

      ‘And = what kinda business can you help us with?’ Burke asked, folding his arms a= nd easing back.

      Otto handed Beesely a bank statement, as with the Israelis, and Beesely slid it forward= s. To their surprise, Burke took out a pair of golden, half-moon glasses, hold= ing the page at arm’s length. Beesely remained silent, his fingers interl= aced and held against his chest as if an earnest monk in prayer. Burke finally gestured with a hand, a conscious plea for explanation.

      Beesely eas= ed forwards. ‘That money is for your unofficial operations in central Europe. Consider it a gift, of sorts.’

      Burke whipp= ed his glasses off. ‘Excuse me?’

      ‘Let = me explain,’ Beesely offered as he stirred his tea loudly. ‘I have made a substantial amount of money over the past fifty years, had some shre= wd investments at the right time. Now … now that I’m getting old a= nd ... winding down, I would like to see some of that money put to good use, a= nd by that I do not mean Save The Whale.’ He tapped the spoon, deflecting Burke’s stare. ‘You see, I have spent my entire adult life eith= er in the military or in private security –’

      ‘You = sold your interest in those private security companies years ago. You could have made a whack in Iraq!’

      Beesely considered that it was obviously a well-used phrase, albeit painfully poor = use of Queen’s English. ‘So it would appear to the wider world,R= 17; he stated with menace. ‘But you should never believe everything you hear.’

      Burke waved= the sheet. ‘And who knows about this?’

      ‘Just us.’ Beesely took the paper back. ‘But there are some provisos = that we would like to … request before handing over the money.&#= 8217;

=       ‘Which little country ya want invaded?’ Burke asked with a grin, glancing at= his assistant.

=       Beesely forced an unfriendly smile. ‘Nothing quite so dramatic, young man.= 217; The put-down could hardly have been missed. Burke stopped smiling. ‘We simply want two things. First, that you do not carry out operations on our turf, and by that I mean Switzerland. And second … if you have some s= mall operations that we may help you with, that you consider contracting back to= our division.’

      Burke nodde= d and cracked a smile. He understood where Beesely had been expertly leading him. ‘Business is business!’

‘And, when you are no = longer contracted to the CIA…’ Burke’s eyes widened at the illic= it employment offer, Beesely adding, ‘Some room for consultancy work, for someone with your skills.’

      =

* * *

 

Elle Rosen lowered his phone, having spent ten minutes talking with his boss at ‘the institute’, north of Tel Aviv. He sat now in an anonymous mortgage broker’s office in Highgate, London.

      ‘Prob= lem?’ his assistant enquired after noticing Elle’s look.<= /p>

      ‘We&#= 8217;re to stay close to Beesely and K2 where possible. There is an … oppo= rtunity here.’

=       ‘Will we get any insider information on Swiss banks?’

      ‘With Beesely where he is, I should think so. Besides, Beesely is not who he appe= ars to be.’

      ‘No?&= #8217;

 &nb= sp;    Elle shook his head, a slight movement. ‘He’s a longstanding, and very highly regarded, American asset.’ He frowned slightly. ‘And, considering just who he is, the meeting we had today was … very odd.’

      ‘The = Swiss man was there,’ his assistant pointed out.

=       Elle wagged a finger. ‘Which could mean that K2 doesn’t know about Beesely. Amazing. It would seem that Beesely has manoeuvred himself into a Swiss bank, a remarkable feat.’

      The assista= nt lifted the Swiss bank account details they had been given. ‘What about this?’

      Elle shrugg= ed. ‘Transfer it all, see what happens.’

 

 


Past employment presen= t

=  

1

=  

Beesely lowered his newspaper as Jane served him tea and warm scones. Otto smiled u= p at her, briefly distracted from a mountain of paperwork created by the activit= ies of the last two days.

      Beesely tap= ped the newspaper. ‘It says here that a council in ... where is it ... Hertfordshire, has banned the local schools from a nest building project, presumably to help save local birds, because they may damage the trees.R= 17;

      Otto consid= ered it. ‘If a tree is big enough to hold a small wooden nesting box, it i= s in no danger. I did this when I was a boy.’

      ‘So d= id I. In fact, there are still a half dozen around here someplace.’ He eased upright. ‘Right, let us go and annoy some local councils, shall we?’

      Otto formed= a knowing smile. ‘What did you have in mind?’ he asked as he took= out his phone.

      ‘Let = us find someone who makes wooden bird boxes. Better still, self-assembly –’

      ‘For = the children to assemble,’ Otto finished off.

 &nb= sp;    ‘Yes, my boy. Let us see if we can get some delivered to every school in Great Britain, and anonymously of course. And an extra large number for Hertfordshire!’

 

* * *

 

Willis just stood there, the report in his hand.

      ‘Well?’ the director asked, getting impatient.

=       ‘You’re not going to like this, not after our chat about one … Sir Morris Beesely.’ He lifted his face out of the file. ‘Both the London Section Head of Mossad, and the London Deputy Section Chief of the CIA, vis= ited our good friend Sir Morris today.’ She stared across her desk without comment. He continued, ‘We received an anonymous tip, complete with photos of them getting into a helicopter at Docklands.’

      She eased b= ack into her chair, staring incredulously at her assistant’s revelation, = her head spinning with a hundred thoughts, the main one being that there were m= any things going on under her nose that she did not know about. Taking a breath, she composed herself. ‘Fix an appointment with our good friend Mr. Beesely,’ she flatly ordered. ‘It’s about time I finally = met the distinguished gentleman, especially given that someone is nudgin= g me that way.’

=       ‘Funny you should say that.’ Willis produced a second page. ‘He just f= axed us – on your direct fax line. It says that a chopper is ready anytime= we are, to take us down to the country.’ Willis passed the fax to her. ‘It says the fishing is lovely this time of year.’ He clasped h= is hands behind his back. ‘I quite liked the little doodle of the man fishing.’

 

* * *

 

‘Henry, it’s me,’ Kirkpatrick said into the phone.

      ‘Yes?= ’

      ‘Bees= ely met with the Deputy Section Chief, London. Guy called Hamilton Burke Junior.’

      Henry could= be heard laughing. ‘A rich name for an idiot; I’ve met the guy. Wh= at did they discuss?’

      ‘Acco= rding to Burke, Beesely offered him a Swiss bank account with a hundred million dollars – in fact pounds, for unofficial operations in Europe.’=

      ‘That= ’s … puzzling, to say the least.’

=       ‘It sounds as if he’s on the team. Sure you don’t want me to contact him direct, sound him out?’ Kirkpatrick nudged.

      ‘No, = not yet, let’s see where this goes. Mossad has been checking out Beesely = as well.’

      ‘Did = they get any money?’

      ‘Unkn= own at the moment,’ Henry pointed out.

      ‘What= ’s he up to?’

      ‘Good question.’ Henry hung up.

 

* * *

 

As the helicopter carrying Dame Helen touched down, there were no guards or do= gs in sight; they had been hidden. No chairs sat near the lake, no fishing rods were set up. Johno stood washing the Rolls Royce, his jacket off, but a driver’s hat on his head. He had been carefully positioned to be in t= heir direct path to the house, and firmly told not to say anything.

      As Dame Hel= en and Willis approached Johno, the helicopter’s engines now winding down, J= ohno touched his cap. ‘Aft-noon, Ma’am. The old man of the manor ‘sup the big house.’

=       Willis hid a smile. Dame Helen gave Johno an unfriendly stare, washing the car less than six feet from the ‘big house’.

  =     Johno continued, in his best attempts at a ridiculous accent. ‘Appen yud li= ke me to wash ‘em windows of ya flying contraption then?’

      She took a = step towards him. ‘John Johno Williams. Formerly a freelance agent, formerly 14 Intel’, formerly Sergeant John Williams of the SAS, 1985 = to 1994, formerly of 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment.’<= /o:p>

  =     Johno scratched the side of his face. Returning to washing the car, and continuing with the accent, he retorted, ‘Just cos a fella can’t hold down= no job don’t mean mistress dominatrix Helen should be putting on ‘= im an all.’

      Willis foug= ht the urge to laugh.

 

Beesely stood with Otto in his old study, viewing a bank of newly installed monitor= s. Otto handed Beesely a crisp new twenty pound note.

      ‘Told you,’ Beesely commented as they made their way towards the front door. ‘I knew Johno wouldn’t be able to resist.’

      =

‘Mrs Eddington-Small. Director. Or may I call you Dame Helen?’<= /span>

      ‘I= 217;m sure, Sir Morris, that you will call me whatever you like. And, given your historically documented disdain for authority figures, I am sure that wh= atever you call me, and howsoever you do, will seem like a thinly veiled insult.’

      ‘Wow!= ’ Beesely let out. He edged a step closer. ‘I shall call you Dame Helen then; a perfect blend of authority plus familiarity.’=

=       The guests were ushered into the main room, the old oak table now offering an o= ddly wide range of food and drink.

=       She placed down her bag and sat without waiting to be asked. ‘Well, let’s see.’ She glanced around the assorted goodies ranged in f= ront of her. ‘My favourite, used to be my favourite, like those, love thos= e, my kids love those - I’m not so fussed these days, Willis loves those, drinks - perfect choice.’ She finally raised her head as Beesely and = Otto sat. ‘You’ve undertaken some very thorough research, gentlemen. Commendable in fact.’

      Beesely cla= sped his hands together. ‘From the Director herself that is indeed high praise.’

      She helped herself to the Earl Grey tea. ‘You’ve been getting a lot of attention lately, Sir Morris. You keep enough milk in the fridge?’

      ‘Ah, = I must apologise for the clandestine photos of your associates from America and Israel, we just wanted to pique your interest. You are, after all, a busy woman; the pulse of the nation’s security at your fingertips. We figu= red that prising someone of your calibre away from her desk would not be easy. After all, you probably have numerous foreign governments to topple with your army of super spies.’

      She smiled, threateningly. ‘Ah, if only that was true.’ She stopped smiling. ‘Then I could order certain people shot!’

      Beesely coc= ked an eyebrow. ‘Anyone we know?’

      The tea pro= ved excellent and she savoured it, taking a moment to study the man she had hea= rd so much about over the years. ‘Perhaps you could help shed some light= on just how your old personnel files went missing.’ She edged closer. ‘Because if, and when, I find any direct evidence of your involvement there will be a police car at the gate –’

      ‘Whic= h, under British and international treaties and law, would not be allowed onto this property, I am sad to say,’ Beesely stated.

      She hesitat= ed. ‘What?’

      Otto produc= ed his passport and credentials. ‘I am Otto Schessel, Deputy Swiss Ambassado= r to Great Britain.’

=       Dame Helen checked his details quickly, thumbing through the pages. ‘Mister Deputy Ambassador, I ...  apol= ogise on behalf of the British Government if I was in any way rude, but this gentleman–’

      ‘Is n= ow residing in an official Ambassador’s residence. We have now purchased this property, and we allow Sir Morris and his assistants to remain here.’ Beesely took out his Swiss passport and slid it across the table with a coy smile. Otto continued, as Dame Helen carefully examined Beesely’s passport, ‘Sir Morris has been assisting my government for some time,= and has dual nationality.’ She glanced up, her surprise evident. ‘Furthermore, he is directly engaged by our Foreign Department as a diplomat of Switzerland.’

      ‘My &= #8230; apologies, gentlemen,’ she loudly offered, sounding less than sincere. ‘I didn’t know … and I was not trying to make any insinuations, Mr. Ambassador, about a member of your staff-’

      ‘Very diplomatically handled, Dame Helen, a true professional,’ Beesely remarked with a broad smile. ‘But do not worry, we are all friends he= re, and wish to become better acquainted. I did not invite you down here to mak= e waves, rather to mend bridges. Oh, by the way, we did lift those files and, before= you ask, no memoirs. Secrecy … is the one thing we are good at.’

      ‘So it would seem,’ she reluctantly admitted, handing back the passports.

      ‘More tea?’

      ‘Than= ks,’ she muttered, resigned to the fact that there was nothing she could do for = the moment.

      Johno stepp= ed into the room, jacket still off, shoulder holster put back on. He slumped i= nto a leather chair in the corner.

=       ‘I’d forgotten he still has a current licence for a weapon,’ she commented= .

      Beesely fol= lowed her gaze across to Johno. ‘To business. I’m sure that you are b= usy, saving us from those terrible hordes at our shores.’

      She forced a smile. ‘Never a dull day.’

=       ‘As you are … not aware, I have been secretly involved with a … rat= her aggressive private security agency for a long time, based obviously …= in Switzerland.’

      She had been sipping her tea, but now banged down her cup and glanced at Willis. Both we= re shocked, coming to the same conclusion at the same time.<= /p>

      Beesely continued, ‘I guess you have developed a few … concerns = in that area lately.’

=       ‘Are you involved with some grotesque vigilante group?’ She turned her hea= d a notch, and accused Otto with her stare. ‘And what does this have to do with official Swiss policy?’

      Otto straightened, running a hand down his tie. ‘My government has always maintained a very effective, yet ultimately very confidential, security organization for the protection of banks and banking activities –R= 17;

      ‘Not = for foreign or domestic terrorism!’ she stated.

 &nb= sp;    ‘That is correct,’ Otto admitted. ‘As you can imagine, we deal with s= ome extremely rich people. We also deal with some affluent persons with a ̷= 0; less than perfect past.’

      She tipped = her head. ‘That’s why they go to Switzerland.’

=       Otto seemed mildly offended, quickly composing himself. ‘It is a fact that= not all of us agree with, hence some recent unauthorised changes in policy.R= 17;

      She raised = her eyebrows, mocking him. ‘You’ve started operating outside of the law?’

      Otto shook = his head. ‘We, the Government, are not involved in such activities.’= ;

      She turned = to Beesely, clearly surprised. ‘I would never have taken you for someone= so … gruesome.’

      He fixed he= r with a firm stare. ‘We fight fire with fire! And some of the things I did = for the Circus, young lady, were pretty gruesome, as you put it. Good job none of that made it into the papers.’

      She shifted uneasily in her seat. ‘Just how big is this organization? And what pa= rt do you play in it?’

      Beesely straightened, a quick glance at Otto. ‘Around two thousand staff, departments in twenty countries, bigger annual budget than MI6 and MI5 combined.’ Dame Helen was stunned. ‘And my part? Why, young lad= y, I personally own the whole operation. Another biscuit? Lemon bon-bon perhaps?’

=  

2

=  

After using the bathroom as an excuse to compose herself, Dame Helen returned to = the table, not sure where any of this was heading. Beesely was now stood at the= far end of the room, enthusiastically showing Willis a fly-fishing rod. She sat without a word.

      Beesely smi= led at her as he sat back down. ‘You must be wondering why, exactly, I invit= ed you down here today. Well, it was not to tell you about my secret little organization –’

      ‘Well= done on that, by the way,’ she offered. ‘We had no idea.’=

      ‘Not = to worry, my dear, we’re on your side.’ Beesely cleared his throat= as Otto passed him a Swiss bank statement. ‘I am well aware of the restrictions placed upon you, Madam Director, both politically and legally.= Not to mention financially. Which is why, in my twilight years, I have decided = to use some of the money I have made to help you - specifically you - in your current role.’ He slid across the paper. ‘That, my dear, is a numbered Swiss bank account, the funds therein available to the head of MI6= for unauthorised overseas operations.’

      ‘It&#= 8217;s SIS these days,’ she cheekily reminded Beesely. She lowered her gaze = and read the paper. ‘This is …’ She pushed the paper away. ‘I can’t accept that, officially or otherwise.’

=       ‘Which is why I shall hold on to it for you. And by that, I mean for whomsoever is= the head of … MI6. If you need an operation discreetly funded overseas, y= ou need only pick up the phone and I shall assist you. If there is any comebac= k, then first they would need to get through Swiss banking laws, then they wou= ld need to get through me - a harder task than you may imagine - then they wou= ld have to tie you in. And unless the PM’s office bugs your office, I do= not see how any of that is likely to happen. Do you?’

Five minutes later, Beesely led Dame Helen towards the lake. ‘The conversation we are about to have you can never repeat.’ She did not react. ‘Not with your own people, the Prime Minister - or even my good friend, dear old General Rose.’ She glanced around briefly at the mention of the General. Beesely continued, ‘There is only one premise to use as a start point to all this: my loyalties always have been, and always will be, with the security of this nation. In the weeks ahead that premise will be thoroughly tested. Now, we don’t have long, so listen well, and read between the lines. Or, inde= ed, listen between the lines.’

 

Beesely and Dame Helen had wande= red around the lake as far as they could before a muddy stream prevented further progress. They turned about and retraced their steps. The warm afternoon air hung still, dragonflies darted about, and the ducks followed - expectantly waiting for the bread that Jane often threw to them, the swans proudly igno= ring them.

=  

= Dame Helen had not been back in her office more than five minutes when her phone buzzed. She hit a button. ‘Yes?’

=       ‘Gene= ral Rose on line one, Ma’am.’

=       ‘It n= ever rains…’ she quietly let out.

=       ‘Ma&#= 8217;am?’

=       She sat. ‘OK. Thank you.’

 

3

=  

Johno knocked on= a door in the village and waited. The door laboriously unlocked with several clicks, and finally opened.

      An attracti= ve and buxom lady in her thirties peered out. ‘Johno?’

      ‘You alone?’

      She stared = at him for a moment. ‘Why don’t you cut the small talk and get to the point.’

    =   ‘Are … you … alone?’ he carefully mouthed.

    =   ‘Yes … I … am,’ she replied, mocking him.

    =   ‘Good. Because I’ve got five hundred quid … and you’ve got large breasts and a great arse.’ He pushed his way in, sitting on the stairs and taking off his shoes.

    =   She watched him, still holding the door. ‘And who says romance is dead?’

    =  

Twenty minutes later he lit up, stood in just a t-shirt = and a pair of socks, looking out of his companion’s bedroom window at her overgrown garden.

    =   ‘So, you raided the piggy bank or something?’ she asked.=

    =   ‘Old man Beesely came into some money, and gave me some as a ... work bonus.R= 17; He took a long drag. ‘Didn’t I promise to fix that garden someday?’

    =   ‘And someday you’ll settle down and raise kids in a small cottage,’ she quietly suggested as she lay on the bed, half covered.<= o:p>

    =   He laughed, facing her. ‘Me, and kids?’ He took a drag and peered = out the window. ‘Yeah, right.’

    =   ‘Yeah,’ she sighed. ‘Social services would take them off you in a week.’= ;

    =   He turned his head. ‘That bad, am I?’

    =   ‘No, actually, you aren’t, you just like to pretend you are.’

    =   He squinted at her. ‘You haven’t been talking with my shrink, have you?’

    =   ‘You have a shrink?’

    =   ‘I told you before. God, woman, you never listen to me when I’m shagging you!’ He feigned hurt.

    =   ‘So, you … off soon?’ she delicately enquired

    =   ‘From here … or from the country?’ he asked with a grin.

    =   ‘I don’t mind you being here, you know that.’ Their eyes met for a brief second, a sudden look of sadness on Johno’s face, many things g= oing through his mind. ‘You said old man Beesely was selling up, heading o= ff somewhere nice and warm.’

    =   ‘Change of plans,’ Johno said as he noticed one of her neighbours. ‘Lik= e I said, he came into some money, so who knows what we’ll do.’ He brightened. ‘Anyway, do you think the old bat next door likes my hairy bollocks?’

    =   ‘Johno, please. I have to live here.’

    =   He turned, firm signs of arousal.

    =   Her eyes widened. ‘I seriously hope that it was not my neighbour that cau= sed that, because I’d be jealous. Not to mention concerned.’

    =   He laughed. ‘No, it’s all this talk of money.’

    =   Her eyes twinkled. ‘You will be gentle with me?’ =

    =   ‘Gentle with you?’ he repeated. ‘Last week you knocked two guys cold in= the bar and carried them out!’

    =   ‘Maybe this time you’ll take your socks off. Still, you are getting better. = Time was when the pants didn’t come off. And at least these days we make i= t to the bedroom!’

 

As Johno stepped outside, he lifted his mobile and diall= ed. ‘Hello?’

‘Hello?’ c= ame a woman’s voice.

‘Who’s that?’ Johno asked.

‘This is the Alzheimer’s Association. How may I help you?’=

‘Oh. Why are you= ringing me?’ Johno enquired, a smile forming.

‘You’re ri= nging us, sir.’

‘Am I? Why did I= do that?’

‘Are you OK, sir= ? Is there someone else there we could talk with?’

    =   ‘Yes.’ He waited. ‘Who’s that?’

    =   A sigh could be heard from the other end.

 

4

 

A street-corner drug dealer offered no challenge for a w= ell trained and highly motivated assassin equipped with an assault rifle, a nig= ht sight, a silencer and a laser range finder. From this third floor London window, the sniper would not have been visible to pedestrians in the busy street below, the hum of the traffic loud enough through Soho to mask the s= ound of a shot from a silencer. The window was propped open just three inches, assuming that anyone could accurately relate to where the shot may have come from.

A gloved hand gripped the rifle, the first trigger pressure taken and held, the sniper’s partner picking a target through a night-vision scope. Their supervisor observed from another window, a uniformed police officer at the foot of the stairs to this desert= ed floor.

‘Baseball cap,’ the spo= tter stated in an accented voice.

The sniper adjusted his aim, a red = dot becoming visible, a gentle squeeze and a gentle cough being followed by the sound of a metal-on-metal mechanism reloading.

‘Good hit,’ his partner stated as the target’s knee exploded, the victim crumpling.

‘Man with padded coat.’=

The shot man dropped to the pavemen= t.

The spotter turned to the superviso= r. ‘The girls?’

The supervisor shook his head. ‘Clean up. We go.’

‘How many more tonight?’= ;

‘You have twelve, quota is tw= enty, then home.’

 

* * *

 

At a private Virginia golf course, twelve elderly men gathered around a large ta= ble, numerous armed guards patrolling outside and visible through the clubhouse windows.

      The white-h= aired chairman of this meeting tapped the table reverently. ‘Gentlemen,R= 17; he began. They came to order. ‘Are we all well?’ he enquired, smiling and glancing at faces over the rim of his glasses, members smiling warmly at each other.

      He opened a= file. ‘OK, first.’ Reading from the file, he said, ‘Our thought= s on just who we support for the next President.’

      ‘Hill= ary Clinton!’ someone joked. They all laughed.

      ‘With= The Terminator as her running mate!’&nbs= p; More laughter followed, the chairman lighting a cigar as the assembl= ed group settled.

      ‘Does= it matter?’ a man finally asked.

 &nb= sp;    The chairman blew out a pall of grey smoke. ‘To a degree, yes; it always helps to have someone … malleable.’

      ‘I don’t think Hillary is such a bad idea,’ an English voice suggested.

      The chairman tipped his head. ‘Oh? What’s your thinking?’

      ‘Simp= le. Put a soft face on the bottle label, while the contents are distilled even stronger.’

      Members considered the idea, some nodding.

      A man in his forties walked briskly in, something of a ‘whipper-snapper’ in = this geriatric gathering. Smartly dressed, he halted at the foot of the table and smiled, shaking his head. ‘Gentlemen, you are going to fall off your seats when you hear this.’ Everyone’s interest was piqued. ‘Beesely is back!’

      Heads turned sharply, men glancing at each other. One particular man glanced from face to face, looking out from under his eyebrows. Henry O’Sullivan eased bac= k in his chair, quietly concerned.

The chairman lowered his cigar. ‘When you say he’s back...?’

‘Back in the game!’

‘How so?’

The newcomer smiled broadly. ‘= ;By some very strange twist of fate that I’m still trying to come = to terms with, one Sir Morris Beesely just inherited control of K2 in Switzerland.’

Henry eased forwards, a puzzled expression. ‘Did you say ... he has inherited control of K2? N= ot just working with them?’

‘Personally inherited it all,’ the newcomer affirmed. ‘Don’t know how he accomplis= hed it, but the documents have been registered and verified. As of - well yeste= rday actually - Beesely owns K2 and the International Bank of Zurich; got to be worth tens of billions.’

The chairman stared ahead, Henry st= aring at the table.

‘Our Sir Morris Beesely?̵= 7; the Englishman asked.

‘I’m not familiar with = this fellow,’ another man called.

The chairman exclaimed, ‘He w= as one of us. Still is, technically. He stepped down about ten years back, but sta= yed in touch. His membership dates back to 1949, when he ran assassinations for= us. Later he became a full member. Hell, he set up a lot of our institutions and practices. He was the second man on the Kennedy assassination.’= ;

‘Then we have nothing to fear?’ a man tentatively asked.

The chairman shook his head. ‘He’s more us than we are! Still, we’ll keep an ey= e on things - bit of a maverick is our Morris.’ He raised his phone. ‘Send Mr. Grey to England, please, to observe Sir Morris Beesely. Tha= nk you.’ He took a long draw on his cigar, staring out of the window, his brow furrowed.

 

 

 

 


Can I have my job back?<= /span>

=  

1

=  

Max Hawthorn, current managing d= irector of AGN Security Limited, arrived by car the next morning. At forty-seven, he was just a year older than Johno, but many years sitting behind a desk had = not been kind to him; his stomach hung over his belt, and a second chin was starting to emerge. Counterbalancing a bald scalp, his jaw was covered by u= neven silver stubble, creating a permanently joyful Santa Claus expression.

He parked his DB7 near to the Silver Ghost, and jumped out with a huge smile, bounding up to the vintage Rolls Royce.

      ‘Morn= ing, Boss,’ Johno offered as he slapped soapy water onto its bonnet. ‘Miss Daisy is up in the big house.’

      ‘John= o, that’s the hardest I’ve ever seen you work.’

      ‘Sod off,’ Johno muttered as he neared. They hugged affectionately, and th= en patted each other on the shoulder. ‘Good to see you, Boss.’

      Max poked J= ohno’s chest. ‘Does it still hurt?’ he asked, suddenly serious. <= /o:p>

‘Only hurts when I’m sober.’

      Max beamed = a huge smile. ‘Well then, where’s the bar?’

      ‘C= 217;mon. The old man is inside.’

Gravel crunched as they walked, cha= tting feverishly, their words overlapping.

      =

‘Look what the cat dragged in,’ Beesely announced, thrusting a hand forward= s to shake.

      Max gripped= it with both hands. ‘By God, Beesely, you look better than I feel.’= ;

      ‘Perh= aps then, old chap, you should cut down on the pork pies and beer!’<= /o:p>

      Max laughed= , loud and infectiously. ‘Life would not be worth living! Good to see you ag= ain, really good.’

      ‘And = you too. May I introduce my right-hand man, Otto.’

      Otto stepped forward and greeted Max, typically businesslike.

      ‘Germ= an?’ Max puzzled.

      ‘Germ= an-speaking Swiss,’ Beesely pointed out. ‘He heads up my operations in Switzerland.’

=       Max frowned= his surprise. ‘Since when have you had any operations in bleeding cuckoo-clock country? Last I heard you were well and truly retired, selling this place and heading off somewhere nice and warm.’

      ‘Ther= e’s been a slight change of plan.’ Beesely suddenly became serious. ‘This is top secret, Max.’

      Max stopped smiling. ‘You back in the game?’

      ‘I ne= ver left, I just stepped up a gear. Or ten.’

      Max seemed concerned. ‘Pissing in anyone’s pool?’<= /p>

      Beesely inc= hed closer. ‘Crapping in it!’ he whispered.

      ‘Well that’s more like it! A bit of action.’ He turned to Johno. ‘What happened to that bloody drink?’

      Beesely put= an arm around Max’s shoulder, and guided him to the oak table as Johno opened the drinks cabinet. Five minutes later they were chatting about old times. The leather chairs had been moved around to create a more comfortable environment, and Max sat with his feet up on an old brown leather footstool= .

      ‘So,&= #8217; Max began, ‘you said you had something for me, and wanted something f= rom me. You need men? Soldiers or spooks?’

      ‘What= I would like, old friend, is fifty-one percent of AGN Security.’

      Max stopped smiling. ‘You want to buy back in?’ He glanced from face to fac= e.

      ‘I wa= nt to buy back in then leave you as managing director. I get the pick of the boys, you run some … errands for me.’

      ‘Dang= erous errands?’

      ‘Most certainly.’

      ‘Stea= lthy errands?’

      ‘Quite likely.’

      Max shifted uneasily in his seat, putting down his feet and leaning forwards. ‘Th= ing is, I have new partners in AGN; whose shares would you want? I would have to discuss it with them first.’

      ‘Thes= e new partners are not worth your time,’ Beesely firmly pointed out. ‘I’ve been checking. You don’t seem to get along with the= m, and they are not pedigree. They are not even ex-Regiment or Circus.’<= o:p>

      ‘Well …’

      Beesely pro= duced a cheque and handed it over. ‘Make them an offer they can’t ref= use. And should they be stubborn, we will persuade them.’

      ‘Wow!= ’ Max studied the cheque. ‘That’s at least three times what they = paid for their shares.’

      ‘So t= here should be no problem. Seriously, Max, I want this done and dusted by end of play Monday. Then I want you, not me, to buy control of MSM and Northgate.’

      ‘Nort= hgate? C’mon now Morris, they’re international, part owned by the Yank= s. We’re talking a lot of dosh.’

      Beesely pro= duced another cheque and handed it over.

      ‘Jesu= s! Just where’re you getting this lot from, you rob a bank?’<= /o:p>

      ‘Yes,= a Swiss bank.’ Max glanced at Otto. Beesely continued, ‘What you = have never known, was that one branch of my family were Swiss. They have all died now, and left me my own banking group.’

      ‘Bank= ing group? Shit, what’s it worth?’

      ‘More= than our government spends on our entire armed forces in a year. Plus change.= 217;

      Max’s= mouth fell open. ‘Blow … me!’ he let out. ‘Wow, what a windfall.’

      ‘Yes,= ’ Beesely affirmed as he leant forwards and held Max’s arm. ‘And = I am going to use it to alter the playing field a bit. Are you in?’

      ‘Damn= right I’m in.’ He held up his glass. ‘To screwing over the establishment!’

      Beesely rai= sed his glass. ‘Without them even knowing about it!’

 

* * *

 

Kirkpatrick arrived five minutes late, his watch showing 7.05am. He quickly stepped down and into the boat’s galley, the rope lines creaking as it rocked gent= ly at its moorings.

      ‘You = look … harassed,’ Henry quietly noted.

      ‘And = for good reason.’ Kirkpatrick caught his breath after jogging across the = huge Pentagon car park. He opened his case and handed his guest a report.

      ‘What= ’s this?’

      The boat= 217;s owner took off his brown coat, throwing it onto one of the wooden benches t= hat ran parallel to the galley table. ‘It’s an updated appraisal of K2’s offensive and defensive capabilities.’

      Y= ou … authorised this?’ Henry questioned, clearly concerned. ‘It could have tipped them off!’

      ‘I had close observation on our friend withdrawn,’ Kirkpatrick explained as = he sat, still breathing hard.

      Henry’= ;s eyes widened. ‘Why?’

      ‘Thei= r boys turned up with sniper rifles with night sights, dog patrols, Israeli laser motion detectors - twenty five grand a piece!’

      Henry leant forwards across the table, staring hard. ‘What does the appraisal say?’

      ‘That they’re about twelve times bigger than anyone previously thought, and= now armed to the teeth with the latest sophisticated equipment.’

      Henry stare= d. ‘And their facility in Switzerland, that secret place?’

      ‘It w= ould take a battalion of Delta Force guys to crack it; all the interesting stuff= is underground! They’ve bought a lot of kit from the Israelis; air filte= rs, water purifiers, gas detectors. That place could withstand a direct nuke attack. Talk about paranoid.’

      ‘How = many men at this … facility?’ Henry quietly pressed, staring out of focus.

      The analyst offered a concern look. ‘Three hundred plus.’=

      ‘Three hundred staff?’

      ‘No, = three hundred guards! Staff estimates are two thousand plus! Two of our assets in Switzerland have gone over to their side, two are missing, and those still = in service are terrified of K2.’

      Henry straightened. ‘Just when the hell did all this happen?’

      ‘It s= eems that K2 has been built up on the quiet over the last few years. Official Sw= iss description of it is deliberately misleading; Swiss Government seems to be happy for them to grow.’

      ‘This alters things. I’ll be arranging to remove our project assets and investments in Switzerland - they’re exposed. And I have a bad feelin= g as to why the Swiss have allowed them to grow.’

      ‘Which is…?’

      ‘I can’t say.’

      Kirkpatrick blinked. ‘You can’t say … even to me?’

      ‘I= 217;ll need to do some research first. And some things… are more dangerous t= han others.’

      He left Kirkpatrick wondering about that as he left.

 

2

=  

Colonel Milward, current operational Commanding Officer of the SAS, sounded confuse= d as he sat at his desk, phone in hand. ‘Am I in my office? Of course I’m in my office, because this phone has a piece of wire that goes in= to the wall of my office, a landline, which you have just dialled.̵= 7;

      ‘Actu= ally, old chap, I’m using a satellite phone, and this call is being re-dire= cted by my operations staff in Switzerland,’ Beesely pointed out. ‘I would hate for there to be any confusion.’ He waited.

      Milward gav= e it some thought. ‘Of course, my apologies for being brusque. How exactly= can I help you, Sir Morris?’

      ‘I ha= ve some gifts for your guys; there will be several large lorries arriving at y= our main gate in a few minutes time. Be so kind as to let them in and find a practical use for the contents.’

      ‘Gift= s? Who for? And what for?’

      ‘I= 217;ll call you back tomorrow, have to run, just enjoy the goodies.’ Beesely hung up.

      Milward hel= d his phone halfway between ear and desk as it buzzed the confirmation of a dead line. He pressed zero.

      ‘Sir?= ’

      ‘Get = me the front gate.’

      A moment la= ter came, ‘Guardroom, Sir.’

      ‘If y= ou see some large lorries –’

      ‘They= ’re here now, Sir. What do you want done with them?’

      ‘Dire= ct them to the parade ground, then get twenty men to help with unloading.̵= 7;

      ‘Unlo= ading what, Sir? We need a forklift?’

      ‘Don&= #8217;t know, we’ll see when we get there.’

      Milward ste= pped to the window of this new, two-storey building, a commanding view over the = rest of the single storey prefabs and metal huts. His view over the uniform collection of buildings led off to gentle green hills in the distance. ‘Old man Beesely. What’s he up to?’

      The parade = ground appeared after a short walk along concrete paths, squarely navigating around several single storey buildings with green-painted metal roofs. Several sen= ior officers and adjutants trailed along after Milward’s cryptic mumbling= s.

      ‘What= the hell?’ he protested as an eighteen-wheeler slowed to a crawl across t= he parade ground. Three smaller trucks followed it in and parked as inquisitive soldiers started to see what was up.

      The juggern= aut hissed to a stop, and the driver clambered out wearing neat blue overalls. ‘Morning,’ he offered as he jumped down, stepping immediately to the rear. A powered loading ramp started to descend.

      Milward loo= ked to his officers. They looked back expectantly. ‘Don’t look at me, I just work here.’ He marched to where he could view the unloading.

      The lorry d= river wheeled an off-road motorbike down the ramp, carefully applying the brakes = and pushing it toward the first soldier. ‘Grab this mate, keys are in it.’

      The soldier= took the handlebars, threw a leg over, and a few seconds later sped along a trac= k. Twenty bikes came off the back, followed by a dozen quad bikes and fifty mountain bikes. In short order, the buzz of engines filled the air and seve= ral near misses were eliciting a lot of shouting. Milward and his officers were= puzzled, the parade ground noise now attracting more onlookers. Fifty canoes were unloaded, laid out and inspected as troopers jumped into the trucks en mass= e.

A hundred and fifty garden barbecue= sets were soon laid out on the edge of the grass. As the front of the line grew = the back of the line began to disappear, as if a creeping snake.

      A Captain s= tepped up to Milward. ‘They’re nicking the bloody barbecue sets!’ Milward did not reply. ‘Do you want one?’ the Captain whispered= .

      ‘Plea= se.’

      The Captain retrieved two as the din grew, bikes and quads flittering about the base.

      ‘Sir,= ’ a soldier called. ‘There’re a thousand cans of lager coming on = that lorry.’

      ‘I wa= nt a couple of hundred in the Officers Mess, same in the NAAFI, rest split equally. And= I want some left for staff on ops!’

      ‘OK, = Boss. What about the spirits?’

‘Same deal.’ He clicked= a finger at an officer who had been close enough to hear. ‘Make sure.’

‘Yes, Sir.’<= /span>

‘What’s that?’ Mi= lward asked no one in particular, pointing to dozens of long thin boxes being unloaded.

‘Fishing rods!’

‘Fishing rods?’ Milward quietly repeated. Then louder, ‘And those boxes?’

      ‘Trai= ners, Boss, hundreds of ‘em, all sizes. I got some for my kids.’=

      ‘Sir,= ’ an officer called from his left. ‘Combat binoculars. Expensive stuff - good Swiss stuff.’

      ‘Make= sure they all go under lock and key!’ Milward ordered. ‘Do not let them out of your sight!’

  =     ‘Sir, these boxes have laptops in.’

      ‘Lapt= ops? God’s sake, laptops?’ They had to be inspected. ‘My offic= e. All of them.’

      ‘Sate= llite phones, Boss, couple of hundred.’

      ‘GPS position finders, Boss.’

      ‘Gents fleeces, Boss.’

      ‘Wate= rproofs here.’

      ‘Box = of a thousand tampons?’ The soldier scratched his head and frowned.

      ‘Scub= a gear coming out.’

      ‘Lawn mowers, Boss.’

      ‘Exce= llent. I want one at my house before end of work today. Start clearing this stuff away.’

      ‘Rope= s, Boss. Helmets.’

      ‘Froz= en barbecue steaks, Boss.’

      Milward smi= led. ‘Guess they are supposed to be used up today. Staff Sergeant!’<= o:p>

      ‘Sir.= ’

      ‘Dozen barbecue sets over there. Beer and steaks, you’re in charge of the la= wn party.’

      ‘Righ= t, Boss.’

      His adjutant laughed to himself as he walked past, carrying way too much of whatever was= in the boxes, Milward shaking his head.

=  

3

=  

Otto brought the TV news to Beesely’s attention, Johno told to sit and = observe.

      ‘Here= ’s the news on the hour: breasts, breasts and more breasts. No, not a bar room joke, but the scene today outside the Houses of Parliament as more than a thousand activists and supporters of a breast cancer research charity strip= ped off and bared their bosoms in protest at the lack of government support<= /i> - pardon the pun - for breast screening issues.

      ‘Ther= e were several minor car accidents as startled motorists caught an eyeful of hundr= eds of women of all ages, many mothers and daughters, baring themselves. Touris= ts photographing Big Ben had something more interesting to photograph, and the roads were blocked for almost thirty minutes before vans of policewomen arrived. Apparently, the police did not want men handling the arrest= s and crowd clearance.

      ‘Down= ing street later said that the Prime Minister was keeping abreast of things. An= d, no doubt, he’s keeping an eye on things as well.&= #8217;

      ‘We organize that?’ Johno asked, smiling.

      Otto nodded= .

      ‘I wonder,’ Beesely began, ‘how Gunter would react if he knew how = we were spending his money?’

      ‘I th= ink, maybe, he would turn in his grave - if he had one,’ Otto replied.

      Beesely tur= ned his head. ‘Cremated?’

      ‘Chop= ped up and fed to a field of pigs.’

      ‘Crik= ey!’ Beesely let out, now making eye contact with a stunned Johno.

 

* * *

 

In a London hotel room, an American man, booked in as Mr. Grey, watched the news with a broad smile. He had just stepped out of the shower, and now stood na= ked as he dried, a tanned and muscular body scribed by numerous white scars.

      Lifting his mobile, he selected the number of a Virginia lodge. ‘It’s me. I’m in London, sir, hotel at the airport. I’ll be moving out in= an hour, be based here for equipment and messages.’

      ‘Anyt= hing to report?’ Oliver Stanton, chairman of The Lodge, formally requested= .

      ‘I= 217;ve spoken to our people here, and they think that a breast cancer protest rally got ten mil’ from Mister Beesely and associates. They were persuaded = to bare their breasts right in front of Parliament, sir.’

      ‘Well, that’s … rather odd. What else?’

      ‘We&#= 8217;ve been intercepting traffic for the last twenty hours. Their SAS Regiment had three truckloads of assorted … things. Gifts, sir.’<= /span>

      ‘Gift= s?’ Stanton repeated.

      ‘Thin= gs like quad bikes, clothes, binoculars, fishing rods.’

      Stanton pau= sed. ‘Oh.’

      ‘He&#= 8217;s made contact with Mossad and the local CIA, no mention of The Lodge, they don’t know about him.’

      ‘I= 217;m starting to wonder if he’s going a bit senile. Ask for a distance psych’ evaluation on the available data, plus history,’ Stanton ordered.

      ‘Yess= ir. You know he offered the local CIA money towards unauthorised ops?’

      ‘Ah, = now he’s starting to make some sense; method in his madness, quite clever really.= 217;

      ‘Sir?= ’

      ‘Obse= rve, Mr. Grey, observe. Just remember who he is.’

 

4

=  

After an hour-long ‘power nap’, Beesely was refreshed, the old grandfather clock in the hall chiming out six o’clock. He had changed= his clothes, freshened up, and was ready to start again.

Johno and Max now sat by the lake on fold-down aluminium chairs, several empty beer cans littering the grass, so= me floating on the lake. Beesely found Otto staring out of the main dining room window towards the lake, his hands clasped behind his back. Otto had heard Beesely’s approach, and half turned his head, but remained where he s= tood as Beesely joined him.

      Otto sighed. ‘He does not take life seriously.’

      Beesely pee= red through the glass, taking a moment to think. ‘Johno had a difficult childhood, finding a purpose and some respect in the Army. The lifestyle, t= he discipline and the adventure … it suited him. He excelled ... and it = made me proud to observe his progress. It was a little nerve wracking when he la= nded on the Falklands, and again when he joined the SAS like his old man. But if= he knew what his real father was up to then it would have been him doing all of the worrying.

=       ‘He was torn to pieces in Kosovo, shot seven times. They left him for dead, but= the stubborn bastard crawled away, plugged up some of the holes and got his rad= io working, fixing his position by co-ordinates and the name of the village he= was near. The rest you know - how Ricky rescued him.

      ‘His fitness has never returned … and he is getting older. Smashed bones, = torn ligaments - things of that nature never really heal. He feels a great deal = of pain each day, but never mentions it.’

      ‘Our doctors in Switzerland can probably help, they are very good. When we go I shall arrange examinations for you all, no expense spared,’ Otto enthusiastically offered.

      Beesely nod= ded as he thought, then took a breath. ‘You may help his body, his mind is another thing altogether. He does not take life too seriously because that = is the best way for dealing with being shot-up and left to die in the mud. I t= hink they call it Post Traumatic Stress Disorder these days. When I was a lad it= was called Shell Shock.’

      ‘Your father was in the World War One.’

      ‘Yes,= the First World War,’ Beesely corrected, carefully pronouncing the words.

      ‘I am= with the Swiss Reserve, on the books, as you say. All young men have to do it, six months. After this, two weeks of camp a year in the summer, two wee= ks winter training. Gunter was keen for me to be involved; he often complained that I was not so strong.’

      ‘Tell= me about these … executions?’ Beesely delicately nudged.

      ‘Gunt= er killed many people. I do not know how many, perhaps fifty, perhaps two hund= red. Some were business competitors, some were people he had dealings with in the Wehrmacht. About fifteen years ago he became the owner of a group of factor= ies in Italy, and he had problems with the Mafia. They are very different cultu= res, the Swiss and the Mafia.’

      BeeselyR= 17;s eyes widened. ‘Very different indeed!’

      ‘So t= here were some problems. At first Gunter offered them some money, but they always wanted more.’

      Beesely gla= nced out of the window. ‘People like that always want more.’

      ‘One = year they killed a factory manager, a German man with a family who was known to Gunter. So Gunter killed the local Mafia representative, a union manager. At first the Mafia believed it was a local problem, but after they asked again= for money, and two more Mafia men were killed. Then they sent several Mafia men= to Switzerland; it was not a good idea. Gunter had them all killed, and then he made a film of their bodies and sent the film to the Mafia and photos to the newspapers in Italy.

      ‘For = six months there was no problem, then a Mafia man became close to Gunter, close enough to shoot a rifle and miss. Gunter found the man and tortured him tie= d to a chair, the torture taking many days. They kept this man alive and they ma= de a film of his torture and his death. This film Gunter sent to the Mafia.=

      ‘The = Mafia were not so intelligent, I think. They sent another two men, one after the other. They both ‘got the chair’ in the same style. After this,= the factory was burnt down by the Mafia, but no more Mafia men came from this family.

      ‘Gunt= er liked the torture, and used it for business people who he had the problems with. It became very effective. Some groups would not go to Switzerland, so= me groups were very respectful towards Gunter and K2. Also it was a signal to = his staff, that if they betrayed him they would get the chair.’

=       Beesely raised his eyebrows in a look of mock horror. ‘I bet loyalty has not = been a problem!’

  =     ‘It has not, but not only for this reason. My staff know that they will be trea= ted well for life, but if they betray me they will be found wherever they go in= the world. But I do not wish my staff to be afraid of me.’

      ‘In t= he game we’re in, there needs to be respect and fear; we deal with kille= rs every day. We … can not afford to be weak.’

      Otto nodded= as he considered Beesely’s words. ‘For many years, when Gunter starte= d to become unwell, I moved staff into higher places if they were more loyal to = me than to him. All believed I was his son, so I would say to people ‘he will not live much longer, then I a= m boss’ and people would respect this, and do what I said. I also identified twenty people who were of Jewish parents; no one Jewish was allowed in the organization by Gunter.’

      ‘Not = that there are many Jews in Switzerland,’ Beesely suggested. ‘What, fifteen thousand in the whole country, most around the Zurich canton?’= ;

      Otto seemed surprised by Beesely’s knowledge, his expression and slight head tip suggesting that he agreed with Beesely’s estimate. ‘The manager= s I selected hid the fact that one parent or grandparent had been Jewish, which= is common in Switzerland. I contacted them and told them the truth about mysel= f. We have a … secret society, inside K2. Many of the current managers inside K2 are from this group, and loyal to me.’

      ‘And = your driver?’

      ‘He h= as this problem, a Jewish grandmother. If it was known he could not work in ba= nk security.’

      ‘Ever suspected any Mossad infiltration?’ Beesely asked. =

      ‘No, I think the staff would say, since we all had this secret.’<= /span>

 &nb= sp;    ‘And when Gunter died, his Will?’ Beesely probed.

      ‘I to= ld the managers that the Will mentioned the fact that I was not his biological son. They were shocked. So we destroyed the Will and started to look for the clo= sest relative; the managers responsible for this task were all from my inner gro= up. One manager seemed uncertain, a man not from my group, so he was sent to run casino security in the south of France. After three months he had a small accident.’

      ‘And = what would the Swiss Government do if it knew about the inner Jewish group?̵= 7; Beesely probed.

      ‘The Federal Swiss Government is trying, on the surface at least, to be less = 230; anti-Jewish.’

      ‘Anti= -Semitic,’ Beesely corrected. ‘I understand, that before 1874 no Jews were allow= ed to enter the country.’ Otto agreed. ‘And only thirty thousand allowed in at the start of the war, before they closed the borders and turn= ed them back?’ Again Otto agreed. Beesely was about to walk off, when he stopped and paused, turning back to face Otto. ‘You have said nothing= of the noises you must have heard during the night.’

  =     Otto took a moment to think. ‘I … understand.’

      ‘With= all due respect, Otto, I doubt you fully understand what pain both Johno and Ja= ne have gone through in their lives. You are joining quite a dysfunctional fam= ily. We make Johno’s favourite cartoon family, those … Simpsons, look quite normal.’

A car pulled up on the gravel, obse= rved by Beesely and Otto. ‘We will have to check if we have enough milk,’ Beesely muttered as they stepped outside to greet their guest.=

      The driver = jumped out of a Silver Mercedes, glancing at the house before opening the back doo= r. The man clambering awkwardly out of the rear appeared to Otto to be in his = late sixties, overweight and tall - well over six foot; getting out of the vehic= le had been a struggle. The guest straightened himself, putting on his jacket, taking in the house and grounds for a moment before stepping forwards. The = two pairs of men walked towards each other across the gravel, as if cowboys squaring off for a gunfight.

      ‘Mr. Beesely.’

      ‘Mr. Short.’

      ‘I th= ought you sold this place.’

      ‘We d= id, but in a kind of … equity release deal; I still get to live here.’<= o:p>

      The guest s= eemed mildly disgusted, not impressed at all. Then two guards with dogs came into view near the woods, another two with dogs on the far side of the lake, two more shutting the gate behind them.

      ‘Expe= nsive security,’ Mr. Short noted.

      ‘Tax deductible.’

      ‘Tax deductible?’ Short puzzled.

      ‘Comp= any men.’

      The very ta= ll Mr. Short took a long look around; cameras on the house, infrared. ‘What company are you keeping these days?’

      ‘We c= ould stand here all day exchanging pleasantries. Why don’t we go in and sit down, have a nice cuppa, or something stronger if you prefer.’

      Short stepp= ed forwards. ‘It’s your deal, you called this meeting.’=

      They walked slowly inside. Two more guards stood next to the stairs, carefully studied = by Short as he entered the main room. Johno stood with his jacket off, holster= on.

      ‘Mr. = John Williams. Still alive and well?’

      Johno shrug= ged his shoulders. ‘Can’t complain.’

      ‘That= ’s not what I’ve heard about you.’

=       Johno offered the back of Short’s head a quick glare and a curled lip as the visitor passed him.

=       Short sat down and helped himself to a biscuit. He felt the temperature of the te= apot, then helped himself to a cup as the others sat. ‘So, old Mister Si= r Morris Beesely,’ Short began in patronising tones. ‘What is it = that you wished to discuss, exactly? I’m a busy man!’

=       Otto stood up, as planned, to start the amateur dramatics. But as Beesely listen= ed, he became certain that Otto was not acting at all. ‘I do not know what your business relationship is with Sir Morris, Mr. Short, but I do not appreciate your attitude, neither do I conduct business in this tone and manner.’

      Short seemed distinctly unimpressed by the speech. ‘What are you, Dutch?’

      ‘Swis= s. I am a senior official in K2.’

=       Johno hid a smile.

  =     Mr. Short’s face now betrayed the fact that he had heard of K2, and was a= ware what they did to people they did not like. He slowly lowered his tea, missi= ng the saucer and placing it onto the table.

      Beesely led= Otto by the arm, back into his seat. ‘Gentlemen, no one ever benefits in business from conflict. We are all sensible people, we all have wants and n= eeds and desires. We have things to sell, and things we need to buy. That is the= art of negotiation.’

      Short sat n= odding in agreement with Beesely, clearly terrified. ‘What is it that my com= pany can do for you?’

      Beesely smi= led inwardly, Short now diverting any implied threats from him personally, and towards his company. ‘You, sir, are well placed in the international = secure parcel industry, and our research suggests that you are good at what you do. You run a tight ship, you keep a single-minded stranglehold on your staff - especially your junior directors, and you are… discreet in your dealings with many and varied groups. In a nutshell, Mr. Short, you are an aggressive, secretive, criminally minded player who seems to be going place= s. And we like that. We’d like you on our team.’=

      Short’= ;s demeanour suddenly took a U-turn in the road and put its foot on the gas. ‘Oh, right.’

      Beesely continued, ‘And there are distinct advantages to having friends like us.’

=       ‘Yes, there are,’ Short confirmed, now regaining a lot of his composure. ‘But what are you looking for from me? You want items moved around the world?’

      ‘My g= ood fellow, everyone wants items moved around the world,’ Beesely explain= ed. ‘Especially us!’

      ‘Then I’m your man.’

      So, it̵= 7;s back from his company, now all about him, Beesely considered. ‘Before= we go any further, Mr. Short, are there any problems or impediments to your current growth … anything that we might be able to help you with?R= 17;

      Short gave = it some thought, now happy enough to help himself to another biscuit. ‘Well,’ he began, spilling some crumbs onto the table. ‘I’ve been watching one of my junior directors lately; I suspect he’s going to split off and set up in competition against me.’<= o:p>

      ‘Oh d= ear, that just won’t do. His name?’

      ‘Robi= nson, bit of a fag. Lives in Wimbledon.’

      Beesely tur= ned his head to Otto, who produced his phone.

      ‘This= is Otto. British man, name Robinson, junior director of Secure Transit Limited, Holborn, London. Robinson lives in a place called Wimbledon. Arrange for ca= sh to be found at his house and details of multiple bank accounts, Cayman Isla= nds, notify tax authorities. Arrange for documents relating to insider share dealings to be found also. He must become a disqualified director within the next month.’

      Mr. Short w= as mildly stunned. ‘What … just like that?’

      ‘Just= like that,’ Beesely confirmed, nudging the biscuit tin forwards. ‘Ha= ve another biscuit.’

As Mr. Short used the bathroom, Otto produced a thick wad of fifties and handed it to Beesely. After smelling th= e wad, Beesely banged the table with it before chucking it to Short’s driver= .

      The man cau= ght it and pocketed it quickly. ‘Always nice doing business with you, Sir Morris.’

      ‘Stay= in touch,’ Beesely quietly ordered. ‘I want to know what that fat = slob is up to step by step.’ The man gave a quick affirmative nod.

When Short returned, Otto presented= him with a million pound cheque, for just fifteen percent of the shares in his business. After a ten-minute stroll with Beesely, the visitor bounded to his car with vigour and enthusiasm.

      ‘Now that’s how you do business,’ he told his driver as they set off. ‘You could learn a lot from me.’

      ‘Aye, sir,’ the driver smiled.

Beesely turned from the window to O= tto. ‘That fellow, Robinson: when he gets caught, let him know that it was= our friend Mr. Short that stitched him up, and then recruit him for future endeavours.’

      Otto approv= ed of the idea.

 

As Short’s car joined the main road, just beyond the village, a man in a coffee shop noted the number plate and recognised the face. He dialled a nu= mber in Virginia, USA, as he stepped out.

=  

5

=  

Otto clinked glasses with Beesely. Otto noted, ‘It has been an interesting= few days, very busy. You are well?’

      ‘Neve= r felt better, got the blood pumping.’

      ‘Each meeting these past days was staged quite differently,’ Otto commented= .

      ‘Did = you learn anything useful?’ Beesely asked.

      ‘I ho= pe so. I have taken notes and we have the camera footage. I will study it. How you= do business, it is very different from us Swiss.’

      ‘Of c= ourse it is, my boy; salesmanship - one size does not fit all!’ Otto seemed puzzled. Beesely explained, ‘When I was ten years old, a shoe salesman came and sat on my friend’s garden wall in the village, not far from here. In those days a door-to-door shoe salesman was not so uncommon. He did not look well and asked me for a glass of water, which I fetched. As he sat there, he said he had something important to tell me. What I did not realise was that he was having a heart attack. Well, you don’t when you’= ;re ten years old.

      ‘So he started to try and tell me, for reasons best known to himself, how to be a = good shoe salesman. He told me all about how to assess the person and their house and garden before attempting to sell the shoes. I remember that his favouri= te trick was always to pretend he had an appointment … and that this<= /i> must be the wrong house, getting the sympathy of the householder. Then he w= ould comment on their garden, or their house, always looking for something unusu= al before he ever attempted to sell any shoes.

      ‘Stur= dy shoes for the working man, handsome shoes for the teenage daughter, practic= al shoes for the mother; he had the situation sized up before he ever spoke ab= out the shoes themselves. The longer he talked about gardens, the longer he had= to make an assessment of the family - and their needs. If the family had new shoes, he would walk off to find that wrong house. If the household’s car looked clean, but their shoes looked old, he would ta= lk about style. It was all about selling to that person what the person needed, and often without them knowing about it.

      ‘He d= ied on that wall, falling off and into my friend’s vegetable patch. I have o= ften wondered if he knew that he was dying, and why he tried to impart that knowledge to me. You see, it was the only thing of value he had, and at the= end I guess it made him feel … proud of his life in some way. His last wo= rds were, one size does not fit all!’

‘You know, I remember now, I = had a strange notion at ten years old that you had to bury people where they fell= . Got it from some old cowboy movie I think, people falling dead off horses in the desert and being buried where they fell. Anyway, when I realised he was dea= d I went and fetched a shovel, just as the village constable arrived. When asked what the shovel was for, I replied that I was planning on burying him in the vegetable patch before the vultures got him. Still remember the look on the constable’s face.’

 

* * *<= o:p>

=  

= The meeting of African Union members, hosted now in Paris, approached the end of the formal greetings and opening speeches. All African delegates, plus memb= ers of the UN and the European Union, adjusted their translation screens, the various speakers words translated to text and the recipient’s computer screens adjusted by touch-screen language selection.

=       As the head= of the European Union’s Overseas Development Department finished up, the background image on the computer screens changed from a pastel blue to an i= mage of the Zimbabwean Ambassador easing out of a pink limousine.

=  

6

=  

The noise coming from the yard at 3am alerted the desk sergeant. He glanced at = the CCTV monitors in time to see a small lorry dumping its load into the middle of t= he police car park.

      ‘Shit= !’ he cursed as he jumped up, wishing he had spotted it earlier. He pressed the station’s tannoy button. ‘All available officers to the rear car park!’

      The sergean= t knew he could not leave the desk, not least because there were prisoners shouting for attention; lock-up had a recent delivery of drug addicts waiting to be processed, when they became a little more coherent. Officers rushed by, male and female, as he pressed the buzzer for the back door. <= /p>

      ‘Go o= n. Quick!’

=       The shift duty officer appeared. ‘What’s up?’ he asked, expec= ting a van full of new arrivals ‘kicking-off’.

      ‘Some= damn lorry driver is dumping his load in our yard!’

      ‘He&#= 8217;s what?’ the officer barked, now bolting out with others.

      The first o= fficer could not believe the sight that greeted him: pistols, rifles, sub-machineg= uns, shotguns, magazines with ammunition in, loose rounds rolling around, and al= l in their yard. They checked the cab. Empty. Later they would find that the lor= ry had been stolen, no prints.

      Close to two hundred weapons of all sorts were now lying in a pile as twelve officers st= ood around, looking confused. The area was hastily taped off – just in ca= se, bomb disposal called, and everyone warned to stand back. The chief constable put in an appearance at 7am, adding to the ‘much scratching of heads’, as the desk sergeant had reported it to his wife at the end of his shift. It’s not every day that someone dumps several hundred ille= gal weapons on the police’s doorstep. Or in this case, in their back yard= .


 

New beginnings

=  

1

=  

= Sunday morning brought some new additions to the household. From his bedroom windo= w, Beesely noted a large pile of building materials outside the old cottage be= yond the lake. He put his glasses on. The lakeside grass now offered two benches, each sat facing the lake and bisected by a small pontoon reaching twenty fe= et into the lake. He stepped across to his second window. A small wooden bridge now spanned the stream feeding the lake, allowing someone to stroll all the= way around the lake unimpeded. He smiled. And against the old fence that edged = the wood, he noticed reels upon reels of new green metal fencing.

Ten minutes later, Beesely found Ot= to supervising the erection of a large conservatory on the side of the house t= hat viewed the lake, on ground that was previously a neglected vegetable patch.= Now it hosted quick drying cement, one side of the conservatory already up. Stopping and surveying the grounds, he noted many men in yellow plastic waistcoats. ‘Morning,’ he offered Otto, squinting against the bright summer sun. ‘You do realise,’ he pointed out, studying t= he new conservatory’s foundations, ‘that this is a listed building?’

=       Otto smiled. ‘Not any more, it was … de-listed. Have you had breakfast?’ he asked, clipboard in hand.

      ‘No, = not yet. Why don’t you join me.’

      Otto handed= a builder the clipboard and followed Beesely inside. They found Johno sitting= in the kitchen, with a coffee and a headache.

‘What we doing today?’ = Johno croaked out.

Beesely sat as Jane served tea and = toast for him. ‘Just a few phone calls, then we’re off cuckoo clock hunting.’

‘Good,’ Johno quietly s= tated. ‘We can go and sit in Otto’s kitchen, let him do the dishes.= 217;    

Beesely attended his toast. ‘= Just when, pray tell, was the last time you did the dishes here?’

Johno thought back. ‘ThatR= 17;s not the point.’

Otto and Beesely exchanged smiles, unseen by Johno.

‘I’ll pack a case this afternoon,’ Jane suggested.

‘You will not need much,̵= 7; Otto told them. ‘There are clothes waiting for all of you in Zug.R= 17;

‘Zoog?’ Johno repeated without looking up.

‘Z-u-g,’ Otto assisted.=

Johno toyed with him. ‘Zugggg, then?’

Otto continued, ignoring Johno̵= 7;s language deficiencies, ‘It is on a lake, twenty kilometres south west= of Zurich. Our headquarters are three kilometres south of the town, on the southern lake shore.’

‘Sounds nice,’ Jane off= ered.

‘It is very beautiful.’=

Johno turned to Otto. ‘Do the barmaids carry those huge pint glasses and have big boobs?’

‘I am sure some of the barmai= ds have big boobs, as you say. And they can all carry the beer glasses = with one litre in.’

Beesely held up a finger. ‘Pr= ivate jet will take us there; just a one hour flight.’

‘Learjet?’ Johno asked, brightening.

‘Yes,’ Otto confirmed. ‘And we make use of Gulfstreams for longer journeys.’

‘Johno can pilot most aircraft types,’ Beesely proudly pointed out to Otto.

Otto informed Johno, ‘There i= s a Cessna 172 at the airfield outside of Zug. You can fly it through the mount= ains if you wish.’

With … a curren= tly qualified pilot sat next to you!’ Beesely sternly warned.<= /span>

Johno picked up a copy of todayR= 17;s News of The World newspaper. ‘Keep your knickers on.’

 

2

=  

The Learjet flew north-east up the Zug valley, low and slow, affording the passengers a keen view of their new home.

      ‘Oh, yes!’ Johno enthused as he stared out of the window. He turned and ki= cked Otto’s leg. ‘Hey, Swiss boy! Tomorrow, you and me, walking boot= s, some climbing gear, that mountain.’

      Otto smiled enthusiastically. ‘It sounds good. That is the small mountain that we= use for training. It has the firing range on the far side.’

      Beesely gen= tly tapped Jane’s leg. ‘Hey, English girl. Tomorrow, you and me, shopping bag, that small town.’

      ‘Soun= ds great,’ Jane agreed, tipping her nose up at Johno.<= /p>

 

Through the aircraft’s small round windows they could see two ground controll= ers as they taxied to a halt, the men wearing fluorescent orange waistcoats and ear-defenders, standing ready with wheel chocks. Lined-up and waiting for t= hem on the airfield’s tarmac stood three black Range Rovers, two K2 guards alongside each vehicle.

With the aircraft halted, a smartly dressed woman walked out from a single storey building to open the aircraft’s door. Otto stepped out first and exchanged a flurry of Ger= man with the woman. Johno caught some of it, understanding half. It seemed to b= e to do with the making arrangements for guests.

      ‘Watc= ha, babes,’ Johno offered as he emerged into the warm sunshine and straightened. ‘No body cavity search?’

      She frowned= her lack of understanding, turning to Otto for support, who now shook his head quickly. She offered to take Johno’s bag.

&nb= sp;     ‘Not in this lifetime, love. Verstehen Sie?’

      ‘Yes,= I understand. Welcome to Switzerland, sir,’ she beamed.

      ‘And = never call me ‘sir’, I work for a living.’ Johno walked to a vehicle, giving the woman a respite.

      Beesely gre= eted her in fluent German, friendly, but formal, his vehicle’s doors being opened by tall and muscular guards.

=       Johno threw his bag into the back of the second vehicle, promptly throwing the dr= iver out; he would be driving, and that was that. As with the lady, he warned the two men in his vehicle not to call him ‘sir’, demanding a cigar= ette. Now, with the windows wound down, Johno and his front seat bodyguard lit up= .

      Beesely tap= ped Otto’s arm as Otto focused on the driver. ‘Don’t go punis= hing any of your staff if Johno involves them in something they should not be doing.’

      Otto did no= t look pleased with the driver. ‘This man knows not to smoke in a vehicle.’

      ‘And = Johno is an honoured guest, who probably just ordered your man to join him in smoking.’ They clambered into the back of the next vehicle. Beesely continued, ‘You will have to warn your people about stuff like this w= here Johno is concerned. He is not command staff, and has no desire to gi= ve anyone any orders.’

      Otto nodded= as he thought. ‘I will brief the managers.’

Jane found the drive from the airfi= eld just magical; she wound down the window and breathed in the warm Alpine air. With her driver told to slow down, they enjoyed the tour, Otto rapidly and over-enthusiastically pointing out many things of interest, Johno soon gett= ing fed up with the snail’s pace and shooting past.

A few miles further along the same = road, the remaining vehicles passed through a wood. Beesely noticed Johno’s black Range Rover parked in what appeared to be a picnic area for tourists, overlooking the lake, his being the only vehicle. Beesely’s driver sl= owed and asked Otto what to do.

      ‘Go on in,’ Beesely suggested.

      Johno and h= is guard stood leaning against their car, Johno peering through a large pair of binoculars as the man pointed to something in the distance, across the lake= . As the other vehicles pulled in Johno walked over, calling loudly for Beesely = to get out. Beesely soon had the binoculars thrust into his hands.<= /span>

      ‘Ther= e!’ Johno indicated, holding an arm straight, his finger pointed. ‘There.’

      Jane wander= ed down into a meadow as Beesely focused the binoculars.

      ‘What exactly am I looking for?’ Beesely asked as he re-focused the glasses, Otto soon passed a similar pair by a driver.

      Johno keenly explained, ‘That peak, go directly left, scree slope, bottom left of = the scree where it turns to grass.’

      ‘Ther= e are people there,’ Beesely observed.

      ‘K2 b= oys on a training hike,’ Johno informed him.

      Beesely tur= ned to Otto, who keenly explained, ‘We have a game for new staff who are bei= ng trained. First they run seven kilometres along this road, then they get into canoes on the lake side not far from here.’ He pointed. ‘Then t= hey paddle across the water –’

      ‘How far?’ Johno keenly asked. ‘A mile, two?’

      ‘It i= s two point five kilometres. Then they must walk with heavy packs up to stage one, the hut.’ He handed his glasses to Johno as both men found the hut. ‘Then they change to climbing gear and make the short climb to the we= st. After this there is a two kilometre trail, a difficult trail, and the final ascent of the mountain, some two thousand feet.’

      ‘I wa= nna to do it,’ Johno firmly insisted.

      Beesely low= ered his glasses. ‘Do me a small favour; spend a week getting into shape, = get yourself up to speed, and then you can play with the boys. You’re par= t of the company now -’

      ‘Not really,’ Johno pointed out. ‘You two are the brains, I’m strictly foot soldier.’

      Beesely was= left standing as Johno ordered ‘Fritz’, not the driver’s real name, back into the vehicle. He drove off. Beesely exchanged an uneasy look with Otto, called Jane back, and set off after Johno.

      As they progressed around the lake, each new scene improved upon the last. The sun = beat through the trees, the views magnificent out across the lake to the right, flashes of meadows to the left; cows, pastures filled with yellow flowers, glimpses of wooded valleys and ornate wooden cottages. When they reached th= e K2 compound, Beesely believed that they had arrived at a Swiss army base. A uniformed police officer stood guard outside a large and imposing gate, the gate bracketed uniformly by twin guard huts and a high fence with razor wir= e. Men in black fatigues stood holding Alsatian dogs on long leads, the dogs panting in today’s heat.

Their vehicles were waved straight through, hardly slowing, soon passing rows of small huts, assault courses a= nd isolated buildings, some half sunk into the ground. Beyond the small camp, = they followed a wooded road higher for two hundred yards, eventually spotting the castle that they had seen from the air. It nestled into a rocky outcrop, st= ood at the base of a hundred-metre cliff. To the left of it stretched a row of modern, single story office buildings, and beyond them ran a row of traditi= onal Swiss cottages, half hidden by trees, backed onto the wooded mountain.

Stepping down from their vehicle, t= hey noticed Johno stood near his Range Rover, again using his binoculars. This = time, the binoculars were trained on the cliff behind the castle, Johno’s driver pointing out something of interest.

      ‘Welc= ome to Schloss Diane,’ Otto offered as he stepped around the front of their = vehicle.

      ‘Dian= e?’ Beesely questioned as he faced away from the castle. He took in the uninterrupted view of the lake and the wooded hills beyond, the far shore at least a mile in his estimation.

      Otto stepped closer, also now facing the lake. ‘It was Gunter’s favourite … er … woman’s name,’ he explained, glancing toward Jane. ‘In the year, maybe, 1976.’

      Over his le= ft shoulder, Beesely could see a straight road stretching away down a gentle slope, a large patch of well-tended grass reaching towards the wooded hill.= In the middle of the grass stood an isolated three storey modern office block, some sixty yards from the castle. In front of him he could see another neat= ly mown area of grass stretching down towards the lake, a line of cottages and= a road on the lakeside, perhaps two hundred yards away in his estimation.

      Jane took i= n the castle and its ancient stone walls. ‘Gosh, it’s lovely,’ = she suggested to no one in particular. ‘Does it … have central heating?’

      Johno could= be heard laughing a short distance away, the other side of his vehicle.

      ‘I sh= ould hope so,’ Beesely said as he led her towards the ornate drawbridge.

      Otto descri= bed all of the buildings in great detail, their historical significance, the age and origins of the castle and the families that had occupied it over the ye= ars. Jane put her coat on as they edged slowly closer to the wooden drawbridge a= nd into the shade, tour-guide Otto in full swing.

      ‘Magn= ificent,’ Beesely commented, before quietly adding, ‘Not much of a moat?’ Whatever the moat had originally looked like, it was now a three-foot deep grassy footpath.

      ‘It w= as filled in many years ago. The drawbridge is functional, but just a symbol.’

=       Beesely half turned his head, to notice Johno now joining the tour. Otto followed h= is gaze, but said nothing.

      ‘What= ’s the flag?’ Johno asked, looking up. Two large flags blew in the breez= e, one the Swiss flag - red with a white cross, the second a white flag with a horizontal blue line taking up the middle third.

      ‘The blue-and-white flag is the flag of the town of Zug,’ Otto enthusiastically informed him.

      Johno consi= dered it. ‘So, K2 doesn’t have its own flag then? A bit poor.’ =

Otto smiled, but made no response. Crossing the wooden drawbridge, they entered an original stone-walled court= yard that had been roofed over. Three Mercedes were parked, room for four or five more. They walked slowly across a cobblestone floor, glancing up as if tourists, a pigeon flying out as they approached.

=       The Great Hall they entered was indeed a great hall, a ceiling some thirty feet high, the room not much smaller than the courtyard. They inspected a ten me= tre wooden table, an original feature, coats-of-arms on the walls, lances, and several sets of metal body armour, each ghostly Knight holding a large swor= d.

      Otto announ= ced, ‘This entrance is not used by the staff; they are next door or inside= the mountain. This is for guests.’

      ‘I= 217;d love a complete tour,’ Beesely suggested as he admired the shiny armo= ur, ‘But I’m a little tired. Can we see our rooms?’

      Otto gave a= slight head bow. ‘Of course. This way, please.’

      The contrast between the Great Hall and the next room was stark. This room had been laid= out in the style of the foyer of a five star hotel, complete with reception des= k, phone booths, a waiting lounge, and a boy in a traditional regional costume= of shorts and waistcoat standing next to a lift.

      ‘It&#= 8217;s Pinocchio!’ Johno whispered, Beesely glaring at him.

      All of the = staff present immediately stopped and nodded their respects to either Otto or Bee= sely as the group progressed. The boy opened the lift, taking them to the third floor without being prompted, Beesely thanking him warmly and patting him on the shoulder as they exited. They emerged into an internal corridor, still reminiscent of a grand old hotel, the walls covered with wooden panelling. = The ancestral Swiss theme continued to influence the décor with numerous coats-of-arms on the walls, plus an assortment of swords and alpenhorns.      =

The door Otto opened first was Jane’s bedroom. ‘Please, make yourself at home, your bags will = be here in five minutes. Please use the intercom for service of any kind, and = your phone to call myself, or one of the others. We will meet for food when you = are ready, the restaurant is on the top floor.’

      A little uncertain of herself, Jane glanced at Beesely before stepping in. ‘Go= d, it’s posh,’ could be heard as the door closed.

      Next came Beesely’s room. It seemed at least twice the size of Jane’s roo= m, and offered two large windows facing out over the lake, a panoramic view. Johno= stared through one, Beesely the other. The windowsills offered bench seating some = two feet deep, the castle walls six foot thick and giving the windows the appearance of small tunnels. Johno leant in and banged on the window frame = with the side of his fist.

      ‘They= do not open,’ Otto informed him.

      ‘Just= as well,’ Beesely commented, looking down sixty feet to the mown grass t= hat surrounded the castle.

      ‘And = the glass is bullet-proof,’ Otto added after Johno had punched his window= .

      Johno stood= in the middle of the palatial room at the foot of a giant four-poster bed. He pointed to a door, ‘Jane’s room.’ Then thumbing at another door opposite, he asked, ‘My room?’

      Otto gave h= im a nod. ‘It is unlocked.’

      Johno thrus= t his hands in his pockets and walked through, opening it with his shoulder, the = door slamming shut behind him.

      Otto steppe= d to the window as Beesely continued to take in the scenery, the lake and mounta= ins. ‘Will he be OK?’

‘That depends,’ Beesely sighed, still transfixed by the magnificent view, ‘on whether on not = he finds something useful to do.’

Through the window, Beesely could s= ee the top of the courtyard roof; numerous small spires tiled with grey slate, triangular flags waving in the breeze. Beyond that he could he could see the top of the drawbridge, two stone towers with slate-tiled spires again.=

He turned fully around, examining t= he window’s writing table. ‘If you lock up a stallion in a small f= ield it goes mad. Lock up a lion in a small cage and it goes to sleep, gets fat … then goes mad.’ He lifted his gaze to Otto. ‘He needs a mountain to climb, and I don’t mean one of those outside.’ Otto seemed puzzled, Beesely explaining, ‘He needs a task to perform; a respectful, challenging, important task.’ Otto brightened, nodding his understanding. ‘Johno!’ Beesely called.

      Johno came = back through quickly, checking the room as if there might be trouble.=

      Beesely took Otto’s arm. ‘I’ll call you in an hour or so.’ Otto bowed his head and left.

      ‘What= ’s up?’ Johno curtly asked.

      Beesely too= k a chair near the window, kicking one out for Johno. ‘Small problem.R= 17; Johno sat. ‘I was talking with Otto when you were snoring on the flig= ht, also read some files last night, and it seems they have some problems with their agents.’

      Johno focus= ed on Beesely, making strong eye contact. ‘What kind … of problems?’

      Beesely eas= ed back and crossed his legs. ‘I believe it’s the training. Either that or it’s the Swiss culture. You see, they’re turning out ve= ry fit marksmen who are complete androids, programmed to think a certain way a= nd stumbling at problem solving in the field.’

      Johno’= ;s eyes widened. ‘Not surprising is it. Take a look at those drivers just now: top men here, fit and trained in all the technical stuff, but no balls= or independent thought. If a VIP in Hereford told the driver to get out heR= 17;d be told to piss off and get in the back. These … wankers are a= ll wound up and shit scared of authority.’

      ‘Well= , they are Swiss,’ Beesely emphasised with a pained expression. ‘When = was the last time you heard of a British or American security firm hiring a Swi= ss bodyguard?’

      ‘Frig= ging never,’ Johno coughed out.

      ‘Exac= tly.’

      ‘Our = boys go all over the world, best there is. Even the Yanks want Hereford boys.= 217;

      ‘So &= #8230; how do we make these obedient little robots tick-tock our way?’ Beesely waited.

=       Johno eased= back in his chair, his grey matter starting to fire up as Beesely observed him. ‘It’s like you said, all culture. They need twelve weeks in Hereford.’

      ‘Or …’

      Johno brigh= tened, a sly grin forming. ‘Or twelve weeks here with some Hereford boys.= 217;

      ‘Might work,’ Beesely reluctantly admitted. ‘We’ve got the ex-Regiment staff in AGN Security with Max, but not many old training dogs though. No warrant officers.’

      Johno straightened. ‘I know a few, I could put a team together. We got the space over here, the mountains and the kit. Just need a programme that will stretch their minds when their bodies are under pressure.’=

      Beesely see= med cautious. ‘Well, I don’t want to break too many of Otto’s people –’

      ‘Sod ‘em, this ain’t kindergarten! It’s for their own good any= way, keep the wankers alive longer.’

      ‘Well= , you may be right,’ Beesely let out with a sigh. ‘Let’s grab s= ome of their training plans from Otto - you can go over them. Fly back when you need to, smoke out Hereford, throw some money around and see who we can get?’

      Johno nodded enthusiastically. ‘I could set up ten different programmes just off t= he top of my head. Frigging great facilities here; lake, mountains, probably w= hite water rafting, climbing, shooting … and not a soul in sight for miles.’

      ‘You&= #8217;ll need to be tip-top secret squirrel back home,’ Beesely quietly warned. ‘No one comes here we cannot trust two hundred percent.’

      ‘Yeah, yeah, I know the drill. Get me them files.’ Johno stood. <= /span>

Beesely picked up the phone on his bedroom table. ‘Can you ask Otto to pop back in? Thanks.’<= /o:p>

      ‘Time= for a shower, shit and a shave, Boss. Catch you after ya’ nap.’ The d= oor slammed behind him.

A minute later Otto knocked.

      ‘Come in.’

      Beesely mot= ioned Otto towards the seat Johno had vacated. Holding a finger to his lips, he signalled for Otto to talk quietly, glancing at Johno’s door. He bega= n, ‘I’ve told Johno that we are not happy with your training progr= amme for agents, although I am sure it is excellent. He will get experienced SAS instructors here to develop additional training programmes, designed to make your guys think a bit. That will give Johno something to do, make him feel wanted, useful and … necessary.’

      ‘But = it is not so artificial, this task. Your SAS people are very good, and we want th= eir training. I have considered many times giving work to ex-SAS soldiers, other than Ricky, but I could not trust them. Here, my people are with me for lif= e, I know them. And I do not know if these English people will trust or respect = me.’

=       Beesely put his hand on Otto’s arm. ‘They will trust me, and they will respect me. And in time, they will do so with you as our reputation grows. = And, more importantly, they all know what happened to Johno, his story is one to= ld over and over, given as examples in training lectures. They respect him.= 217;

      ‘It is good,’ Otto enthused.

      ‘Be a= good lad, and get Johno some English versions of the outdoor training programmes that you use for your guys.’

      ‘OK, Boss,’ Otto said with a smile as he stood.

 

3

=  

An hour later Beesely was awake. After a refreshing cup of tea in his room with Jan= e, he gave her the task of checking out the kitchens and letting the chefs know what their new visitors liked to eat and drink.

      Now Otto led Beesely and Johno back to the lift. ‘Foyer,’ he told the boy.

      ‘To t= he bat cave,’ Johno whispered to the boy with a wink. The boy did not understand, so Otto explained in German, making the young lift attendant la= ugh.

  =     They found themselves back in the foyer, soon walking past the reception desk, turning right and down a long corridor of Spartan décor - magnolia w= alls and a few bland watercolours, Otto leading them on at a brisk pace.

      The double = doors they came to were painted metal, Johno noted, and appeared strong enough to withstand a terrorist attack. He could see two cameras, one in each corner = and angled down, two spy holes, a slot of some sort that reminded him of a Seco= nd World War pill-box, a numeric touch pad and several other buttons. Expectin= g a laborious entry ceremony, the visitors were relieved to find the doors being opened from the inside by armed guards in black fatigues, holding the heavy doors and nodding their heads. A blast of warm air washed over them, a cont= rast to the decidedly chilly corridor.

      ‘Oh my!’ Beesely whispered.

They had heard the stories from Ric= ky, and had spoken with Otto, but that had not prepared them for what awaited.<= o:p>

      ‘Doct= or No’s cave?’ Johno whispered.

      Directly ah= ead ran a circular walkway skirting around and above the edges of a sunken room= as big as the courtyard. The walkway housed numerous small alcove workstations, flickering computer screens in subdued light. Half were occupied, a mixture= of men and women in smart business suits.

      Below the w= alkway sat the lower level, a room that could have been taken out of any British b= ank headquarters; rows of computers sat on ultra-modern looking desks, swivel lamps, flipcharts, white boards, fifty men and women buzzing round. At the = end of the lower level nestled several doors, people coming and going. From the ceiling hung a large set of central lights, strongly illuminating the desks= .

      Beesely ste= pped forwards for a better view, to the top of the stairs that gave access to the lower level, and accidentally into the edge of the stronger light. Immediat= ely the buzz stopped, staff standing and facing toward him. Even the people in = the alcoves around the upper level paused and stood up.

=       He took a deep breath and turned his head to Otto, who had hung back, and quie= tly said, ‘If I may.’ He addressed the entire staff, a greeting in English, German and then French. ‘As you are, not doubt, already awar= e, my name is Sir Morris Beesely, and I will be working with you in the near future. The success of that work will originate in good ideas, will grow fr= om strong teamwork, and will be rewarded with the knowledge of a job well done. And no one need fear making a mistake - we are all human. In the days and weeks ah= ead I will get to meet many of you individually, and discuss your particular project areas and tasks. Please forgive me if I do not remember all of your names, I’m getting old.

      ‘In t= he meantime, I do not want anyone to stop work - at any time, because I am in = the room or even standing nearby. Your work and your duties are important, not least to your own self-respect. The only time I wish you to deviate from yo= ur work is when it is obvious that I wish to speak with you personally. Please return to your tasks. Thank you all.’ Beesely took a large step backwards.

‘This way,’ Otto led. ‘Your office.’

      Overlooking= the command centre, Beesely’s new office was on a grand scale. ‘Chairman of the board,’ he commented as he entered the Spartan office.

      The desk wa= s an antique, made from a dark red wood. It supported two computer screens, two keyboards and two desk phones. And its chair would have impressed the most ostentatious company director. Behind the desk ran a curved wall, several pleasant watercolours hung along its length, a waist-high fitted cabinet running the full length of the room. One cabinet door hung open, revealing a fridge. Immediately inside the main door, radiating outwards along the inte= rnal wall, sat a row of a dozen comfortable chairs.

      Beesely ran= a hand over the desk’s cool surface. ‘Was this Gunter’s office?’

      ‘Yes,= but I had everything removed and destroyed, and decorated for a second time.̵= 7;

=       Beesely tur= ned to face Otto. ‘I was not suggesting that I would have objected to using Gunter’s office.’

      ‘I did object. That is why I removed everything.’

      Beesely nod= ded. ‘I see.’

=       ‘Where’s my office then?’ Johno joked, taking in the surprisingly plain office= .

      ‘In t= he dungeon,’ Otto flatly answered, causing Beesely to laugh.<= /span>

      ‘Swis= s boy Robinson’s got a sense of humour after all!’ Johno pointed out = to Beesely.

      ‘No, = it is not a joke. You have an office. Come, this way.’

      Otto moved = off, Johno stepping up to Beesely. ‘He’d better be fucking joking.’

Beesely beamed a smile as he put an= arm around Johno and led him out.

=       ‘The dungeon!’ Otto announced. It was one floor down in the same foyer lif= t, the lowest level of the castle.

      Johno thrus= t his hands into his pockets. ‘So this is my office,’ he muttered. Th= ere was actually a small desk in the corner of this large room, a computer sat = atop it, a group of white boards on the wall behind it, and two filing cabinets.=

      Alongside t= he desk stood a king size fridge edging a small half-circle bar, complete with beer pumps and rows of bottles. Beside the lift door hung a dartboard with toe-line marked out on the floor. To the right of the lift stood a punch ba= g, a boxer’s speedball, an assortment of free weights, some Kendo swords on the wall, crash mats on the floor. Directly ahead, a glass wall cut the roo= m in half, two glass doors leading through to a gymnasium on the left and a small firing range on the right. The central feature of the room was a large circ= ular sofa that had been laid out below a ceiling mounted TV screen.

      Otto stepped forwards. ‘Through that door on the left is the toilet and rest room = with a bed and TV. Through that door on the right there is a sauna, Jacuzzi and steam room, and lockers for clothes and equipment.’=

      ‘You&= #8217;re not such a bad wanker after all,’ Johno told Otto, maintaining a host= ile stare. He wagged an accusing finger at Beesely. ‘This is racial stereotyping, Boss. Not allowed in Barclays Bank!’ =

      ‘I ca= nnot claim any of the credit,’ Beesely admitted with a shake of his head.<= o:p>

      Johno’= ;s expression highlighted his surprise as he studied Otto’s neutral features. Otto tipped his head up to signify that Johno should look behind.= As Johno half turned his head, three buxom ladies in bikinis came out of the s= auna area, soaking wet and shimmering.

      Otto stepped closer to Johno. Quietly he said, ‘Sir Morris informed me of your low= er back problem that persists from an old injury. These ladies are highly trai= ned physiotherapists. After all, we need you in the best of health.’=

      Beesely ste= pped into the lift, Otto there a second later. Johno was about to say something = when the lift door closed with a ‘ping’.

      ‘Yep,= not such a bad wanker after all,’ Johno repeated, easing off his jacket.<= o:p>

 

* * *

 

Dame Helen grew puzzled at what = she was reading. It was not her area of interest, domestic policing and firearms, b= ut she was puzzled. So far some three thousand firearms had been dumped at var= ious police stations throughout the length and breadth of the kingdom, officers = now standing vigil to see if they were next. And the street price of illegal weapons was soaring, putting them out of the reach of young hoodlums, she considered.

      Six gun-dea= lers had been found dead, along with large stashes of weapons, and Scotland Yard’s success rate in finding weapons had suddenly trebled with a re= ady supply of very accurate tip-offs. Rumour had it, that one of the gun dealers had been found tied to a chair with a sign around his neck which said, ‘Gun dealer, please arrest me, cell with a view!’

      Worryingly,= the number of kneecappings had risen dramatically in the capital, but at the mo= ment it seemed gang related.

* * *

 

Concerned at the news items he had been viewing, Mr. Grey dialled the Virginia number again. ‘Sir, there are some developments.’

      ‘Prob= lems?’

=       ‘Can’t be a hundred percent sure, sir, but it looks like our friend has started ta= king out London gangsters and street-corner hoodlums. We’ve got some intercepts, not a clear picture. Also, traffic has a definite link to him buying illegal firearms around the UK and then dumping them at police stati= ons late at night.’

=       ‘Do you think he risks exposure?’

      ‘No, = sir. Brits don’t have a clue as to who is behind it. News so far is favourable, British press loving it.’

      ‘Keep= an eye on it.’

 

4

=  

‘How is your ... office?’ Beesely asked Johno as they all sat down = to eat.

=       The top floor restaurant would have put the best five-star hotel to shame; its panoramic views of the mountains alone guaranteeing a regular and loyal attendance. The imposing cliff-face offered a striking backdrop, now lit wi= th yellow neon beams, its dark crest just visible against the twilight sky. To= the west the sun was already behind the hills, but illuminating the distant clo= uds with a warm amber glow. Along the edge of the lake, lights from the road and from houses flickered, defining the shape of the black lake. A large pleasure-boat headed down the lake’s centre, brightly illuminated.

      ‘No windows,’ Johno commented, avoiding eye contact and tucking into his double cheeseburger and chips.

      ‘Never mind,’ Jane offered as she picked at her tuna salad. ‘Maybe they can find you something on a higher floor.’

      Otto smiled= at Beesely without her noticing.

      ‘Has = my guest arrived?’ Beesely asked Otto.

      ‘Ah, what?’ Johno whinged. ‘Are we working tonight?’

  =     Beesely touched his arm. ‘Just me and Otto, brief meeting, ten minutes.’= ; He turned to Jane. ‘And tomorrow, young lady, you and I are going to tak= e a wander in that charming little town.’

  =     She beamed back a huge smile, but clearly seemed tired.

      ‘Have= a long hot bath and early to bed,’ Beesely suggested. ‘Mountain a= ir, it tires you out quickly.’

      ‘Maki= ng me knackered!’ Johno muttered. He looked up and faced Otto. ‘Oh, w= hile I think of it, select twenty of your best guys, send them on an all-night h= ike, tire them out, and I’ll set a challenge for them at twelve noon tomor= row. But make sure they don’t get any sleep. Get me a couple of doz= en bottles of beer, some whisky, notepad and paper, an atlas, and a child̵= 7;s puzzle book, age range 11-13.’

      Otto was intrigued, Beesely smiling widely. 

 

* * *

 

Duncan Masters’ head was spinning. ‘Wow!’ he said for the tenth = time as they settled into a corner of the now deserted restaurant, Duncan staring out over the lake. He had been on the grand tour with Otto and Beesely, wid= e-eyed like a schoolboy visiting the cockpit of an airliner.

Duncan had worked for Beesely in pr= evious years, making use of his position as a senior newspaper reporter by keeping= his ear to the ground for any stories about the intelligence services about to break. He was now fifty five, thin and pale.

      ‘So, how’s the family?’ Beesely asked as he poured tea for the three= of them.

      ‘Kids= are alright,’ Duncan affirmed, still glancing out of the window. ‘B= oth in university, don’t see much of them.’ Turning, his expression betrayed some sadness. ‘Gilly and I don’t talk. Probably divorc= e, you know.’ He took his tea. ‘I’m in a flat up in town.= 217;

      ‘Yes,= we know.’

      Duncan did = not seem surprised. ‘Well, in your game you’re supposed to know everythi= ng. I couldn’t believe that Learjet, seats that reach out and hug you. And = no passport.’ He tapped his jacket pocket. ‘I still don’t ha= ve my passport. And this castle, Doctor No or what?’

      Otto turned= his head to Beesely, lifted his shoulders and held up his hands, a pained and questioning expression on his face. Beesely shook his head, almost unnoticeable, before placing a thick wad of fifties onto the table next to Duncan. ‘Get yourself a nice place.’

      ‘Good= of you, Sir Morris.’

      ‘List= en, we need your help, old chap.’

      Duncan pock= eted the wad. ‘I never let you down before.’

      ‘But = we are not Her Majesty’s Government any more. Granted, I still work closely = with them, and we have the same vested interests, but this is private enterprise.’

      ‘That= ’s OK, same deal as before.’

      Otto shot B= eesely a quizzical look.

=       Beesely began, ‘What we will need you to do … is to expand your network= of contacts and informants. And I mean really expand it. Put a wad like that i= nto the hands of every paparazzi and trench coat you can find. Money, my boy, i= s no object.’

      ‘What= we looking out for?’

      ‘Same= as before: any story about to break about the intelligence services. Also fore= ign intelligence services, especially anything about me. Any stories about Switzerland, or general crime and intelligence matters in central Europe. Anyone sniffing around asking questions about me, or this place, and you pu= sh the panic button. Buy the story exclusive and bury it. Where you can –= ; of course!

=       ‘We will give you an email address to send copies of articles to. But this must= be subtle, Duncan, secret squirrel - my colleagues here do not piss about. If = you get noticed or questioned, best not to upset these boys.’

=       Duncan glanced at Otto. ‘Never been noticed before, Sir Morris, not going to start now.’

=       ‘Good.’ Beesely handed Duncan an envelope. ‘In here are bank details and a cr= edit card. That card has a ten thousand a day limit, and it will show up here ev= ery time you use it. Treat yourself, get a nice pad, some nice young ladies. Re= lax and enjoy life.’

      ‘Nice= one, Sir Morris. Thanks. I was starting to be a bit down in life –’<= o:p>

      ‘My d= ear boy, if you were not … then I would not be using you; motivation is everything.’

      ‘I won’t let you down,’ Duncan repeated.

      ‘One = more thing. I want you to find me an analyst, someone who can scan all the papers quickly and read between the lines, alert me if anything is brewing.’=

      Duncan gave= it some careful thought. ‘There’s this one guy I know, Robert some= thing, over at the Observer; sharp as a tack.’

      ‘Does= he have any particular ... hobbies or vices?’

      ‘He l= ikes young girls.’

      ‘How = young are we talking here?’ Beesely enquired.

      ‘Oh, = not kids, eighteen to twenty.’

      ‘And = he is?’

      ‘Fort= y-nine, fifty –’

      ‘And = looks like?’

      ‘Oh, average. He spends his spare money in tacky London West End clubs.’

      ‘Perf= ect. Give him some money to spend when you see him next, see if he wants a new j= ob. He would work from home in the UK, computer in the study, producing daily warnings of anything brewing, plus scanning for anything relating to a given list of topics, people and companies. You would feed him intel’ as well.’

      ‘No problem. This guy is sharp as hell, well connected too.’

      ‘Soun= ds like the makings of a deal.’

 

5

=  

An hour later, Otto found Beesely and Johno sitting in the grand bedroom and chatting. Beesely did not get up, his eyelids heavy to the point of closing= .

      Otto apolog= ised, but Beesely waved him over. ‘The Czech operation was completed last night; I wanted you to see the photographs and the newspaper reports.’= ; He handed Beesely a brown file. Numerous black and white photographs of burnt-= out buildings fell onto Beesely’s leg, grabbed by Johno. They reviewed a = few of the images.

      ‘Nice work,’ Beesely commended. ‘No one hurt?’

      ‘Not = that has been reported so far,’ Otto informed them. ‘The police have issued a warrant for the German owner. He was absent at the time, but they = know it was arson and he is the best suspect.’

      ‘Good enough for ‘im!’ Johno said. Then, grabbing Beesely he said, ‘C’mon, you look like shit.’

=       Beesely acc= epted a hand up from Johno, who eased off his jacket, Otto assisting as Beesely wobbled on his feet.

      ‘Enou= gh wine for you, young man,’ Johno playfully scolded.<= /p>

      ‘Too much,’ Beesely agreed. He sat on the edge of the bed as Johno eased h= is shoes off, helping him lie down.

=       Johno tipped his head, signalling for Otto to follow him out to the corridor. They left the lights on, closing the door quietly. ‘When you’re that= age it hits you quick,’ Johno reported from much experience of Beesely. ‘An hour from now he’ll be wide-awake and pissing. Then he̵= 7;ll read for about for an hour, then go off to sleep. Old age breaks up your sl= eep cycle.’ He patted Otto on the shoulder. ‘Nothing to worry about= .’

      Otto nodded, clearly thinking about many things.

=       ‘C’mon,’ Johno urged. ‘Drink at my place.’ They took the lift down, the young lift attendant now absent. ‘Give my room up here to someone who needs it more,’ Johno suggested as they entered the dungeon. ‘B= ed down here is snug and cosy.’ He threw his jacket onto the central sof= a. ‘What’s your poison?’

      ‘Pois= on?’ Otto repeated.

      ‘Your favourite drink,’ Johno carefully mouthed.

      ‘Ah. = Malibu and orange, please.’

      Johno turne= d to stare at Otto, a controlled surprise at his taste in spirits. Then there it was, Malibu. It had not been there earlier. ‘What the hell?’ he muttered. He poured a large measure and threw in some orange. ‘Try that.’

      Otto sniffe= d it and took a sip. ‘It is good.’

      ‘So l= ong as you’re happy.’ Johno grabbed several bottles of strong German l= ager and nudged his half-brother to the central sofa. ‘Stick your arse dow= n, bruv.’

      ‘Bruv= ? You mean brother? Bruder?’ Otto seemed pleased.

      ‘Ja, = du verstehst!’

      They sat, J= ohno clinking Otto’s glass with his bottle. ‘Your good health.’= ;

      ‘Pros= t!’ Otto offered.

      Johno peere= d out from under tired eyelids. ‘Prost!’

      After a mom= ent, Otto said, ‘Johno, we have the best doctors in the world here in Switzerland, many private clinics where famous actors come for surgery. I c= an … arrange anything you want, I know you still have pain.’<= /o:p>

      ‘List= en, mate, I know you mean well, but me and scalpels don’t get on. When I = was on that Yank aircraft carrier I woke up with a hundred tubes going into and= out of every damn hole or patch of skin that wasn’t already stitched up. = If Ricky hadn’t been sat there … I would have freaked and lost it.= At some point I went in for more surgery … and I think that wanker of a doctor didn’t put me under right … ‘cos I could feel them cutting me and poking around.

      ‘Then= back in the UK I spent six months learning to pee and walk again. I shat liquid = for three months, I forgot what passing a turd was like. It took a while to wal= k, which is not easy on the old head when you are used to being fit. Verstande= n?’

      Otto nodded= , a little saddened.

      Johno swigg= ed. ‘So me and scalpels, not so hot.’

      ‘If y= ou ever change your mind, I will get for you the best doctors money can buy. A= nd you will not feel anything.’  &n= bsp;  

Over the next three hours, Johno and Otto, half-brothers, played catch-up for more than forty years of lost time, Otto eventually dragging Johno to the small cot and putting him to bed.

 

* * *

 

Across the lake, a pale and pockmarked Serb checked his telescope. The lights of t= he castle were clearly visible, cars coming and going. He turned away and star= ted to check his supplies again.

      He had alre= ady worked out how much he could consume each day to make it last; four days so far, six days to the event itself, then another seven days wait before he c= ould leave. It was odd, he told himself, but he was being paid well enough, enou= gh to just sit and watch TV, to eat and to observe the castle.

      Tiring of counting tins and packets, he sat in front of the TV, quickly flicking to t= he German channel with game show contestants topless. He dropped his trousers.=

 

 

 


 

A hard day at the office=

 

1

=  

Beesely’s breakfast guest arrived as punctually as a Swiss Government Minister might = be expected to. He proved to be the Interior Minister, responsible for police,= the courts and security.

      ‘Good= to meet you,’ Beesely offered, making a point of standing and walking ar= ound his desk as the Minister entered, repeating the greeting in German and Fren= ch.

      Minister Bl= aum presented as a handsome figure; tall, slim and silver haired, his suit a so= mbre grey. ‘I have heard much about you, Mister Beesely. Do I pronounce it correct?’

      ‘Yes, excellent pronunciation. Please, do have a seat,’ Beesely offered, an= arm extended towards a chair.

      The Ministe= r took a seat, Otto sitting next to him.

      ‘Woul= d you like something? Tea, coffee, water?’

      ‘Coff= ee would be fine. Thank you.’

      ‘Otto= ?’

      ‘Same, please.’

      Beesely wal= ked back around the large desk and sat, ordering three coffees in German via the intercom.

      ‘You = seem settled in, after only one day here,’ Blaum noted.<= /p>

      ‘One = day here, Minister, a lifetime in similar positions.’

      The Minister nodded his understanding, but clearly seemed to be studying Beesely.

      Beesely ope= ned a file. ‘Let me start, Minister, by informing you that I have secured p= rovisional agreements from the Israelis, the Americans and the British not to c= arry out any intelligence operations on Swiss soil.’

      The Minister turned to Otto for clarification. ‘This is wonderful, but why would t= hey agree to such a thing?’

      ‘Nego= tiation, Minister. We will help them, they will help us, and we will work together. = They know me, and they know that I am a man of my word. I would also expect the French, the Germans and the Italians to make similar offerings within the n= ext week.’ Again the Minister turned to Otto. Beesely added, ‘The o= ne problem area will be the Russians. But I will make some progress there.R= 17;

Coffee was served by two ladies in = smart suits, interrupting the proceedings.

The Minister took longer than norma= l to stir his coffee. Finally, he announced, ‘We had many doubts about you, Sir Morris, after Herr Gunter’s death. It was ... strange that you we= re the last member of the family and also from ... from the background = you have.’

      ‘A st= range twist of fate indeed,’ Beesely flatly stated, carefully studying the Minister.

      Blaum stare= d back for several seconds, before lowering his gaze to his cup. ‘In all the time I knew Herr Gunter … he never once stood to greet me, he never offered me coffee, and he certainly never attempted to broker deals with pe= ople like the Israelis. You seem to have done more in one day than he did in ten years.’

      ‘Well= , more to the benefit of the Swiss Interior Minister at least.’

      The Minister finally smiled. ‘May I ask ... what your aim will be for K2? It is, a= fter all, something we are closely involved with and ... having a foreign national here is a concern for some in the Government, the police and military, as you can well imagine.’

=       ‘Yes, I can imagine. But no need to worry, Minister, you can pop down and chat any time you like. As for my aims ... I’m keen to see K2, and its resourc= es, used to help in the fight against crime and terrorism in Europe, as it has already been used to some degree.’

      ‘And = would such actions attract ... newspaper interest?’

      ‘I sh= ould hope not. From what I understand, K2 does not get caught or seen doing what= it does. They are as discreet as a Swiss banker!’

      The Minister laughed. ‘You are becoming Swiss already.’

      Beesely ret= urned the smile. ‘Now, I understand you are rather good at fly fishing.R= 17;

      ‘It is hobby, when I have the time.’

      ‘And = you make all your own flies?’

      ‘Of course.’

      ‘Exce= llent. I’ve cleared it with some of my contacts, and we can get you three da= ys fishing on the Tay near Balmoral Castle in Scotland, when the Royal family = is not in residence.’

‘Near Balmoral? You can arran= ge this?’

      ‘Alre= ady taken care of. Just let me know when you are free, and when it’s the right season, and we’ll fly you up there.’

      ‘Thank you.’

=  

= Ten minutes later, Otto walked Minister Blaum out.

As the Minister reached his car he stopped, glancing back at the courtyard. ‘Do they suspect anything?’

=       ‘No, Minister, nothing.’

=       The Minister nodded before easing into his car.

=       With the ve= hicle pulling away Otto muttered, ‘And neither do you, Minister.’

=  

2

=  

= ‘Monday morning meetings,’ Beesely thought out loud. ‘I used to both en= joy, and dread, these back at MI6.’ He studied the seating arrangement, sl= owly walking around his desk. ‘And you were going to sit ... where?’=

=       The seats had been laid out in a half circle around Beesely’s desk, two d= eep so that the department head would be at the front, their deputy behind. Otto tapped the back of a chair facing the desk.

      Beesely sho= ok his head, stepped over and dragged Otto’s chair to the same side of the d= esk as his. ‘You’re command staff, they are subordinates.’= ;

Otto appeared as if he was about to= say something when the first of the department heads and his deputy walked in. = Five minutes later they were all assembled, and Beesely had stood in the doorway= and greeted them all with a handshake, being last to sit down.

      ‘An auspicious occasion, ladies and gentlemen; the first meeting with my good s= elf at the helm.’ He turned to Otto. ‘If I fall asleep, nudge me.’ The group laughed, quietly and politely. So, first things first.= I do not know who you all are, and I have no intention of wasting time today = in trying to remember all your names and functions. That will come later.=

      ‘Now,= K2 is, at the moment, an organization that supports the bank’s investment activities, but also stands on its own two feet and earns some money directly. That figure, of around twenty-five percent, must grow. I would li= ke to see that figure quantified in the following way. First, those monies that are generated by the bank as a direct result of K2 action we must quantify, as a way of proving the value of K2 as a department. We must then look at the direct earnings of security work. That figure I want to improve year-on-year by around ten percent.

‘Following talks with Otto, I= will also begin to split K2 departments to a scale of risk and payment for servi= ce, so that simple security guard work is at the lower end of the scale, bodygu= ard work for rich clients in the middle, and hostage rescue at the top. K2 acti= ons in support of the bank will be a separate division. And I will cultivate relationships with the security agencies of the world so that we can support the high-risk client activities, such as kidnap and blackmail.

      ‘Righ= t, my first priority this week will be to quickly cement the relationships I have established with Mossad, the CIA and MI6. Meetings will be held next week w= ith the Germans, the French and the Italians. Later in this meeting we shall address any problems or concerns you have, and then we can make some plans = for the future. So, first we need something of interest to the western intellig= ence agencies.’ He held out his hands. There followed a moment’s sil= ence as the assembled managers glanced at each other.

Finally, a woman held up her pen. ‘We may have al-Qa’eda suspects,’ she offered with a soft French accent.

      ‘Exce= llent. What do we know about them?’

      ‘We intercepted and followed two Pakistani nationals when they took a bus from = Rome to Paris a month ago. It took them through Switzerland, so we noticed them. Their passports were real, but not of themselves, they were passports of relatives. On the bus they did not sit next to each other or talk.’

      ‘Seems suspicious. Good, go on.’

      ‘We followed them to Paris. One travelled to Amsterdam a day after staying in t= he same hostel room together. After this they simply attended college studies = for one month, so we stopped watching them; resources were best used elsewhere.’

      Beesely rai= sed a finger. ‘That’s OK, but from now on I want any such persons - w= ho may be of interest to the CIA, to be brought to my attention, and resources dedicated to their surveillance. Are they still there, in Paris and Amsterdam?’

      The woman t= urned to her deputy, the man trotting quickly out. ‘We will know today, sir.’

      ‘Were= the French and Dutch authorities warned?’

      Otto leant forwards, catching Beesely’s attention. ‘In the past, that was = not ... our policy.’

      Beesely nod= ded his understanding.

      The French-speaking manager offered, ‘I can get the files on these two me= n in one minute.’

      Beesely swe= pt a hand towards the door. ‘By all means.’ The relevant files were quick= ly retrieved, both opened onto his desk. ‘Ah, we have the credit card details of the chap in Paris, photocopied passports.’ He studied the passport stamps. ‘Crikey, they have Canadian visas!’ He handed = the page to Otto. ‘When do they run out?’

      Otto read t= he tiny, obscure print. ‘Three months remaining.’

      ‘Exce= llent, that gives me an idea. Oh, this credit card, we can hunt down its transactions?’

      ‘Yes,= sir, we can call up its use,’ the same lady replied.

      BeeselyR= 17;s expression suggested she should do so, and she popped back out. He half tur= ned to Otto. ‘Here’s the plan. We use this chap’s credit card= to get him booked on a flight to ... Quebec, via London and Toronto, the other= guy to join the flight via Amsterdam. Problem is, the minute they make the book= ing the CIA computer will be all over it.’ He rubbed his chin. ‘How long would it take you to make those flight bookings using this chap’s own credit card?’

      ‘Ten minutes maximum,’ Otto informed him with a puzzled look.

      ‘And = to courier the tickets to his address?’

      ‘An hour.’

      Beesely pas= sed Otto the file. ‘OK, buy the tickets now and courier them to their hom= es. They will probably be out anyway.’

      Otto stood,= took the file and passed it to the second man sitting in the semi-circle. That m= an had already eased up as Otto had accepted the file, now he walked briskly o= ut.

      ‘I sh= all need to make a call.’ Beesely pressed CALL and then hit the SPEAKERPH= ONE button.

      ‘You = want us to leave?’ Otto asked as several people started to stand.

      ‘No, no,’ Beesely waved them down. ‘Stay.’ Leaning into the ph= one, he said, ‘Could you get me Burke, CIA, London.’

      The managers glanced at each other.

After a few moments came, ‘Burke here.’

      ‘Burk= e old chap, Beesely here, sorry to disturb you.’

      ‘No problem, got two minutes before some God damn admin’ meeting. What’s up?’

      ‘We h= ave just discovered some al-Qa’eda chaps just about to board a flight for Toronto via London.’

      ‘Toro= nto? Bet they’re heading for Niagara and the border.’

      ‘You&= #8217;d know more about that stuff than me. Seems one of the team is coming from Pa= ris, the other Amsterdam, meeting up at Heathrow and flying on together to Toron= to today.’

      ‘Toda= y!’

      ‘Well, it’s eight to ten hours to Toronto, so not to worry. Listen, we’= ;ll be faxing the details across to you in the next few minutes.’

      Otto pointed towards a man then slid his finger towards the door, the man bolting out.

      ‘Than= ks Beesely. Owe ya one.’

      ‘My pleasure.’

      Beesely mad= e a further call. ‘Could you get me Dame Helen in London, please.’<= o:p>

‘Hello?’ came after jus= t a few seconds.

      ‘Dame Helen, how good to hear your voice.’

      ‘Sir Morris, I’m ... kind of in the middle of something.’=

      ‘Yes,= piggy in the middle, I’m afraid.’

      ‘What= ?’ she snapped.

      ‘Well= , we just got wind of two al-Qa’eda chaps heading for Toronto via London. They’ll be changing flights at Heathrow, having a sandwich and a nice= cup of traditional English tea no doubt, served by one of our traditional Polish waitresses.’

      ‘Why didn’t you alert us –’

      ‘My d= ear lady, I just received the information myself. And here I am, alerting you to it.’

      ‘Yes,= of course. Sorry. When can we have the details?’

      ‘Well= ... you’ll need to move quickly, their flight takes off in two or three hours. One chap is coming from Paris, the second from Amsterdam, both Pakis= tani nationals travelling on their cousins passports, changing at Heathrow for Canada. And, presumably, onto the wide open spaces of the US of A.’

      ‘You = have their names? Passport numbers?’

      ‘I= 217;m afraid the Yanks are not being as co-operative as they might. They … = are happy enough to let them pass through London unnoticed and pick them up in Toronto, then extradite them.’

      The managers again glanced at each other.

      ‘We&#= 8217;ll see about that!’ Dame Helen barked.

      ‘Just= a suggestion, Dame Helen, but if I were you I would just get them on the use = of a friend’s passport, then see what happens after that. Let the Americans offer you something for them. Yes?’

      ‘You&= #8217;re a crafty old sod, you know that?’

      ‘Comi= ng from you that is high praise indeed. Call me late tonight with the final score.’ He took a breath and reset the phone. ‘Get me Elle Rose= n, Mossad Section Chief, London.’

‘Hello?’ came after thi= rty seconds.

      ‘Is t= hat you Elle? Beesely here.’

      ‘Yes,= how are you?’

      ‘I= 217;m fine ... for my age. Listen, to business. The Yanks and the Brits are in a = flap over two Pakistani nationals flying through London today for Toronto, one f= rom Paris and one from Amsterdam. If I were you I’d give this game a miss= . Strictly between you and me, I feel that they’re trying to justify their budge= ts by finding poor Muslims to harass; the chaps they’re focused on are s= mall time. Looks as if they desire to work in the west, not blow it up. Sit back= and watch the news.’

      ‘Good= to know. I’ll let you know if something more interesting turns up.’= ;

 

Elle held the phone above the receiver and stared across at his deputy. He let it fall. With a frown, he said, ‘That was Beesely, tipping us off about potential al-Qa’eda suspects passing through London.’

      His deputy puzzled the situation. ‘He must know … that we know who he real= ly is.’

      ‘For = sure. I guess we play his game, pretending we don’t know.’=

      Elle’s deputy pointed towards the phone. ‘So that the Swiss people don’= ;t know?’

      Elle shrugg= ed and nodded at the same time.

 

Beesely pressed the END button. He took a big breath. ‘Right, let’s exe= cute plan ‘A’, then coffee and a walk around the park before we start again.’

      ‘Sir?= ’ a manager called. ‘These men will not get on the flights, for sure.’

      ‘I know,’ Beesely informed him with a confident grin. ‘And the var= ious agencies will blame each other for scaring off this hopeless pair. We do not need them on the flight, we just need the idea of them on that fligh= t in the hands of western intelligence. That way we have done our job, not our f= ault they did not board. And ... with a bit of luck, both the Brits and the Yanks will play hell with the French, who are due here next week for a chat.̵= 7;

      ‘Le fox,’ a man muttered a bit too loud, and an odd mix of English and Fr= ench.

      Beesely smi= led. ‘A compliment if ever I heard one, in both languages.’

 

* * *

 

Johno rested an elbow on the desk, a hand supporting his head, looking hung over.=

      ‘Sir,= you had an appointment at 7.15am this morning,’ the Swiss doctor delicate= ly explained.

      ‘I= 217;m not a morning person,’ Johno replied, looking tired.

      ‘Not … a morning person?’ the doctor slowly repeated, glancing at his colleagues with a heavy frown. He put a large cross on a form in front of h= im, took a breath and presented Johno with a multi-part medical questionnaire. Then, as an afterthought, he placed down a pen when Johno just stared back = at him.

      Johno teste= d the pen by scribbling in the top corner of the questionnaire, causing a sharp intake of breath from the medic. He began ticking boxes, keenly observed by three of the bank’s doctors. After ten questions read, Johno had tick= ed six.

      ‘Sir?= ’

      Johno lifte= d his eyes, his head still on his elbow.

      The medic delicately asked, ‘Do you understand the questions, sir?’<= /o:p>

      Johno glanc= ed at the paper, then stared back at the doctor. ‘Yep. It is … in English.’

      ‘It&#= 8217;s just … that you seem to have ticked some boxes?’

      ‘That= ’s what they’re there for, aren’t they?’ He carried on down = the list, managing to tick fourteen of the thirty questions on the first page.<= o:p>

      ‘Sir?= ’ the first doctor interrupted, Johno lifting his eyes. ‘It’s just that … normally no one is allowed to work for the bank if they tick any of the boxes.’

      ‘Real= ly?’ Johno made a face. ‘Must be a healthy bunch of fuckers.’

      The second = doctor walked around and glanced over Johno’s shoulder. ‘Sir,’ he said, placing a finger next to a box. ‘Have you had … that?’

=       ‘Twice,’ Johno replied.

      ‘And = these others?’ the doctor pressed.

      ‘Yep.= ’

      ‘That= seems … unlikely, sir.’

      Johno slowly stood and took off his jacket. ‘I appreciate I’m new here, so I’ll give you the talk … just once.’ As he unbutto= ned his shirt, he said, ‘I was a soldier in the British Parachute Regimen= t, the SAS, then worked undercover for ten years for British Intelligence. I’= ;ve spent time in the desert, the jungle, and the black hole of Calcutta.’= ;

      He eased of= f his shirt. ‘Twenty-eight years … of doing stuff I probably shouldn’t have.’ The doctors stared at his torso, wide eyed. ‘I’ve been shot seven times, and two are still in there … somewhere. I’ve been stabbed, burnt, garrotted, beaten, and I’ve shat out some dodgy curries. Chain smoker, chronic alcoholic … and I sometimes cross the road without looking.’ He waited as they stared. ‘Any … questions?’ he carefully mouthed.

Next came the psychological examina= tion, Johno on his third coffee, the second ordered at gunpoint.

      ‘Sir,= ’ the lead psychologist asked. ‘How do you see yourself … within K2?’

      ‘Well= , I kind of see myself … like a male lion.’

      ‘A “male” lion?’ the second psychiatrist queried.

      ‘Yeah= , a male lion.’

      ‘But,= sir, a lion is … a male.’

      ‘Real= ly?’ Johno gave it some thought. ‘So what’s a female lion?’

      ‘A li= oness, sir.’

      ‘That don’t seem fair.’

      ‘Fair … sir?’

      ‘Yeah= . How come a male lion doesn’t have a decent name? A male elephant is a “bull” elephant, yes?’ They nodded. ‘And a male cow= is a “bull”, yeah?’

      ‘Sir,= you can’t say … a male cow. A cow is female, a bull male.’

=       ‘I know that. But when you see lions, you say … see those lions over the= re. Yeah?’ The psychiatrists eventually agreed. ‘So lions is= the collective name for … you know, lions and lionesses. Which ain’t fair, because the lion is king of the jungle.’

      ‘Not fair?’ a psychiatrist repeated.

      ‘Yeah= . A male deer is a “stag”, a great name for a male deer; it suggests strength and power.’ The psychiatrists glanced at each other and took notes. ‘But the poor old male lion is just a lion. I mean, who thinks= up these names?’ He sipped his coffee. ‘Fucking Darwin.’

      ‘So, = sir … how do you see yourself … within K2?’ the first psychiatrist pressed.

      ‘Like= I said, like a male lion.’ They waited. Johno explained, ‘Your ma= le lion, he sleeps around all day, eating and shagging –’

      ‘Shag= ging?’ they queried.

      ‘Shag= ging the lionesses.’ They seemed to understand. Johno continued, ‘But then once a month or so he’s got to fight the lions of the neighbouri= ng turf, and he risks his life. Once he’s fought off the neighbours he g= oes back and shags the lionesses, has a bite to eat and falls asleep till he’s needed again.’

      The psychia= trists collectively sighed.

      ‘Sir,= tell us … how you view women.’

      Johno grinn= ed.

 

* * *

 

Johno walked into Beesely’s office holding his satellite phone as the manag= ers trailed out, his expression suggesting trouble. ‘Got a problem,’= ; he stated. Approaching Beesely and Otto, he waited for the others to leave. ‘Max at AGN Security in the UK just called, says he’s being followed.’

      ‘Is he sure?’ Beesely queried, a sceptical look offered.

      ‘Yep. Professionals.’

      They both q= uizzed Otto with their looks.

=       ‘It i= s not our people,’ Otto insisted.

      ‘But = we are keeping an eye on Max?’ Beesely prompted.

      ‘Cert= ainly. As soon as we entered into business we set up a camera outside his office a= nd outside his home and a satellite tracker on his car.’

=       ‘You do know he’s on our side?’ Johno sarcastically nudged.

      ‘Of c= ourse. We are there for his protection, and to see who he is doing business with,’ Otto explained.

      Beesely rub= bed the bridge of his nose. ‘Find out who is following him, please.’= ;

      Otto turned= and left.

      Johno close= d in. ‘What d’ya reckon?’

      ‘Coul= d be MI5, I doubt it’s Dame Helen. I’ve heard that the head of Five = is a bit of a handful. I think ... I think I will need to do some digging there.’

      Johno turne= d, about to leave, when Beesely called, ‘Oh, Johno?’ Johno stopped= and turned back. ‘We had the results of your medical back,’ Beesely said, trying not to smile.

      ‘And?= Am I still alive?’

      ‘Acco= rding to medical science … no. Did you enjoy shocking them?’ J= ohno grinned, but made no comment. ‘The psychological evaluation was ̷= 0; interesting, in their assessment of you. Did you answer the questions truthfully, or according to that document you have – How to fuck up a psychiatris= t?’

=       Johno grinned. ‘From the book. I memorised the answers, the ones that are supposed to make you come across as a psychotic. I dragged the thing about lions out for ages.’

      Beesely too= k a breath. ‘I believe that Otto deliberately did not warn them ab= out you.’

=       ‘He has a hidden sense of humour,’ Johno agreed. ‘Hence the dungeon.’

=       ‘What did you say to the psychiatrists about women? Otto said it had them going.’

=       Johno smiled. ‘Women are like mobile phones. You’ve got your “pre-pay”, and you’ve got your “contract”. Wi= th pre-pay you know exactly what it costs you and, more importantly, how long = it will last. With your contract you never really know how much it will cost … and the money disappears from your account every month whether you = like it or not!’

      Beesely sho= ok his head. ‘Was that from the book?’

‘No, a mate text’d it t= o me a few days ago.’

Beesely let out a resigned sigh. ‘Go and play nice with the other children.’

 

3

=  

The day was glorious, the view of the lake breathtaking. Jane was well wrapped = up, and Beesely had kept his jacket on against the cool breeze off the lake.

A hundred yards down from the castl= e, they had found a park with freshly mown grass, paths made from wood chippin= gs, benches facing the lake. They could see the lakeside road and a dozen traditional wooden cottages dotted along it. The large pleasure boat had sounded its horn five minutes earlier, and now came into view.

      ‘Anot= her egg?’ Jane asked.

      ‘Than= ks.’ Beesely set about peeling the hardboiled egg.

      ‘How&= #8217;s it all going?’ she casually enquired without looking up.

      ‘Fine, fine,’ he answered. After a moment’s thought, he added, ‘= Much of it is in German and French. A bit rusty, but I’m getting by.’= ;

      ‘I= 217;d be lost. Don’t remember any German from school.’

      ‘Not = to worry, Otto does a lot of translating.’

      ‘Wher= e’s Johno?’

      ‘God knows,’ Beesely grumbled.

      ‘Have= n’t seen him much. Must be like a kid in a toy shop.’

      ‘Yes, certainly a great deal for him to do here.’ He studied the back of her head. ‘Do you … miss the old house?’

      Now she tur= ned around. ‘Oh, no, don’t get me wrong, here’s lovely and we’re used to travelling and all -’

      ‘But?= ’

      ‘Well= ... I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. You’re bus= y, and Johno will be busy.’

      ‘We a= lways eat together.’

      ‘Yes = ... I know that.’ She let her gaze wander over the lake.<= /p>

      ‘Do y= ou want a job?’ he delicately enquired.

  =     ‘Well ... I want to do something to help. Don’t know what, mind you.’=

      He studied = the back of her head, gently nodding. ‘Let me talk with Otto, and we will= see what a woman of your talents can help us with. Yes?’

      She laughed, noticing Otto and Johno walking down, chatting together. Johno sat down and pinched Beesely’s freshly peeled egg, gulping it down.

      ‘Stra= nge news,’ Otto reported with a smile. ‘They are taking the flights.’

      ‘Sorr= y?’ Beesely puzzled.

      ‘The = two Pakistani nationals, they are taking the flights,’ Otto explained, clearly amused.

      Johno tried= to laugh and chew at the same time, Beesely scowling at him.=

      Otto explai= ned, ‘We bought the aeroplane tickets, and they were emailed to the two me= n by the airline, no need to be sent by courier; we had already intercepted the men’s email accounts. Twenty minutes later they got into taxis for the airport. They are at check-in.’

      Beesely sta= red out over the lake, frowning heavily before turning back to Otto. ‘They’re taking the flights?’

      Jane glance= d from one face to the other, not a clue as to what was going on.

      ‘They= ’re taking the flights?’ Beesely repeated, Johno struggling with the egg = and the humour.

      ‘They= took the damn flights!’ Johno stated, spraying egg over himself.

      ‘Why = the hell would these two poor stupid farm boys get on a flight sent to them in = an email?’ Beesely puzzled.

      ‘Mayb= e that is what they were waiting for,’ Otto suggested. ‘A secret travel plan sent to them.’

      ‘Jesu= s,’ Beesely finally let out. ‘Well, that fact does not change anything, it works in our favour. Poor fools.’ He blew out. ‘If only they kn= ew what lay ahead for them.’

      ‘They= must be terrorists,’ Otto insisted. ‘Who else drops everything and g= ets on a plane to go half way around the world on a fake passport?’<= /o:p>

      Johno point= ed a finger towards Otto. ‘He’s got a point.’

      Beesely sig= hed. ‘I had best stir the shit then.’ He stood and wandered down the slope, taking out his phone. ‘Dame Helen, please.’

      After a mom= ent came, ‘Hello?’

      ‘Bees= ely here.’

      ‘Ah, = we found the details of that pair, only two Pakistani nationals flying on to Toronto today. Looks like fake passports, the real passport holders are in prison in Islamabad.’

      ‘I ha= ve some news, my dear … Condition Black. Canadian Air Force get their tip-off from the Yanks ... in an hour.’

      Dame Helen paused. ‘Are you sure?’

      ‘Can = you afford to take the chance? And can you afford me to know you took the chance? Might be best to divert the flights, perhaps to RAF Brize Norton, j= ust to be sure.’

      ‘Chri= st,’ she quietly cursed. ‘Anything further on them?’

      ‘When= I know, you will know.’ He hung up.

      =

‘Elle, twice in one day. Listen, I think someone has been keeping us in the dark. = It now looks as if these two farm boys are not so stupid after all. RAF has pl= anes in the air!’

      ‘Real= ly?’

      ‘Wort= h you digging through their background.’

      ‘Yes, certainly. Thanks again.’

 

‘Burke, Beesely here.’

      ‘Kind= a busy right about now –’ came back.

      ‘Don&= #8217;t care. Listen well: Brits have fighters in the air.’=

      ‘What= ?’ Burke puzzled.

      ‘They= are going to intercept those flights, since it seems our little fish are better conne= cted than anyone thought. Bit of a coup for MI6, at least that’s the way t= he newspapers will see it.’

      ‘Like= hell! I sent an official warning to your government a few hours back, already ask= ed for these two fellas.’

      ‘Well= , you may have a fight on your hands; seems that they are big fish after all. I’ll let you know if I find anything new.’

      ‘Than= ks Beesely, you’re a stand up guy.’ He hung up.<= /p>

      Beesely pre= ssed the red button. ‘Huh,’ he grunted.

 

Rejoining the picnic, Beesely got taken to one side by Otto. ‘We will have to discuss the Serbian problem.’

      ‘Serb= ian … problem?’

      ‘Gunt= er made enemies there. They are trying to get what information they can about K2.’

      ‘Oh dear.’

      ‘They= mean to make trouble,’ Otto suggested with a concerned look.

      ‘Are = we talking about the Serbian Government, or private enterprise?’

      ‘They= are connected.’

      Beesely too= k in the view. ‘Then what I would like ...  is for the Swiss Government to officially invite the head of Serbian Intelligence, plus the principal play= ers on the private side, here for a chat. Around Friday would be good.’

      Otto stood surprised, if not mildly stunned. ‘I … will talk with the Government, but it will not be so easy.’

      Beesely mad= e eye contact. ‘Worthwhile things never are.’ He added, ‘The problem with the Serbs, is that half the country wishes to join The West, t= he rest wish to lynch us for what we did in Bosnia and Kosovo. A delicate bala= nce, love and hate in equal measure; must be a bit like being married.’

      They sat and chatted for half an hour, enjoying the view, the sun beating down and warmi= ng them, ties loosened.

      Johno’= ;s phone rang. Otto and Beesely turned, their interest piqued, since Johno did= not make or receive many calls on the satellite phone. After much nodding and ‘yeah … sweet … wankers’, he hung up. ‘That w= as the boys from Hereford, well chuffed about the gifts. Seems they’re o= ff to RAF Brize Norton to storm a plane.’

      Beesely off= ered him a quizzical look. ‘Really? Can’t think why.’

 

* * *

 

On a random tour of camp buildings, Johno wandered into the guard commander̵= 7;s single-storey building, correctly reading the German title above the door. = The senior men, dressed in black fatigues, stood as he entered.

      ‘No n= eed for you fuckers to stand when I walk in; I’m no officer, I work for a living!’ He took in the room, the clipboards pinned to walls, the des= ks and chairs, a paper man-sized target fixed to one wall.

      Simon, a ve= ry tall guard commander stepped forwards. ‘We have orders from Herr Otto= , sir. You are to be treated as a senior manager.’

      ‘Real= ly?’ Johno unhappily reflected. ‘So … you have to do what I say?R= 17;

      ‘Yes, sir.’

      ‘OK. = Stand on one foot.’

      Simon glanc= ed at his colleagues before standing on one foot.

      ‘Now = flap your arms like a chicken and make clucking noises.’=

      Some of the= men smiled. Simon lowered his leg, not looking pleased. ‘I believe, sir, = that you are making a joke at me.’

      ‘And you’d be right.’ Johno put a cigarette on his lip. He stopped s= hort of lighting it. ‘Is smoking allowed in here?’=

      ‘No, sir,’ Simon informed him.

      ‘Then I’m changing the rules. You’re now all allowed to smoke in here. And I’ll shoot the next person to call me sir. I’m a soldier, a driver and a bodyguard.’ Men glanced at each other. ‘= ;And … a drunken womaniser,’ he lightly added.

      The men smi= led.

      Johno point= ed at a man’s holstered pistol. ‘You know how to use that, sonny?R= 17;

      ‘Yes,= ’ the man confidently replied. ‘Do you?’

      Johno had h= is pistol in his hand a second later, bringing it level with the man’s h= ead. The man ducked, Johno firing past him at the paper target fixed to the wall. When the shooting stopped, men lifted up in stunned silence and turned to t= he target. Johno had put a “smiley face” into the target’s chest, ten rounds. Several of the guard commanders stepped towards it, inspecting Johno’s handiwork.

      Johno holst= ered his pistol. ‘How’d I do? Passable by your standards?’ He = lit his cigarette.

      The men clo= sest to the target stood admiring the speed and accuracy of Johno’s work. = The man who had ducked was breathing heavily, looking horrified.

      Simon stepp= ed to Johno, but focused on the target. ‘We are not allowed to carry our weapons cocked with the safety off – as you do.’ He shrugged. ‘Safety rules.’

      ‘And = good rules they are,’ Johno agreed. ‘Stop you shooting yourselves in= the foot. I once drew my weapon quickly and shot the tire of my own vehicle.= 217; He kicked out a chair and sat. ‘Sit down, gentlemen, that’s an order.’ He cleared his weapon, re-loaded, but did not cock the weapon= . He set ‘safety’ on, displayed the weapon’s setting for them = to see, then holstered it.

      ‘Tell= us about Kosovo,’ a man called. The remainder closed in, keenly attentiv= e.

 

An hour later, Johno sat behind a fold-down table in a field of mown grass eas= t of the camp. Two senior administrators sat next to him at similar tables; pens= and paper, quiz books and booze ready. The selected twenty guards were running around the field, having been out all night.

      Johno blew a whistle, directing the men across and telling them to line up. A dozen other guards observed, a few managers taking notes. Otto had just arrived, walking slowly with his hands clasped behind his back and taking in the scene.=

      Johno waved= the first guard forwards, pouring him a drink of beer in a plastic glass. ‘Drink it all.’

      The guard hesitated, glanced at the managers present, then at Otto before drinking the beer as requested.

      ‘Back= of the queue,’ Johno told him, waving him off. He repeated the exercise = till the first man was in front of his table again. ‘Twenty press-ups.R= 17; The man dropped and did twenty press-ups. ‘Good.’ Johno gave him another beer then repeated the exercise for the next nineteen perplexed gua= rds. Soon the first man presented himself again.

      ‘Capi= tal of Wales?’

      ‘Wale= s?’

      ‘You&= #8217;ve lost a point, twenty press-ups, then a beer. Next!’=

      The next gu= ard stepped forwards. ‘Capital of Scotland?’

      ‘Edin= burgh.’

      ‘Good= , back of the queue. Next.’ Johno worked his way through the entire line, ei= ght guards drinking a beer.

The first man returned as Johno rea= d from the puzzle book. ‘How many English pounds in one kilo?’

      ‘Two = and a half?’

      ‘Er .= .. two point two. Have a mouthful of beer and five press-ups.’ Five minutes later, the same man was back. ‘Capital of Iran?’

      ‘Bagh= dad?’

      ‘No, = fuck head! Beer and thirty press-ups!’ Eight minutes later the same man stepped up, looking exhausted.

      ‘What= is … nine times eight?’ Johno asked the man, his head in the book,= a finger over the answer.

      The guard h= ad to stop and think. ‘Seventy … six?’

      Johno grinn= ed up at the man. ‘Nope, beer and thirty press-ups.’ Ten minutes pass= ed before the first guard was back again. With a cheeky grin, Johno poured him= a large whisky.

‘Mein Gott,’ the man mu= ttered before swigging the whisky, his eyes now showing the strain, the effects of= alcohol on a tired body. Ten minutes later he returned, unsteady on his feet.<= /o:p>

‘How many rounds maximum in a Browning 9mm pistol?’

The guard squinted at Johno. ‘Thirteen?’

‘Good. Have a beer, then twen= ty press-ups.’ The press-ups were laboured, several burps issued, but the man got through. By the time he re-appeared he was wobbling. Smirking, Johno lifted an MP5 sub-machinegun onto the table. ‘Make safe. Quickly!R= 17; He threw a stun grenade at the back of the queue. ‘Grenade!’ Th= ey dived out of the way. ‘Line up you fuckers!’<= /p>

The MP5 was made safe.

‘Slow, but OK. Run once aroun= d the field.’

Fifteen minutes later the same man presented himself in front of the table, sweating profusely and panting heavily, Otto sat close and keenly taking notes.

‘Take a drink.’ Johno h= anded the man a whisky. ‘What is … normal flight time from London to … the Bahamas?’

‘Flight … time?’ = the man repeated.

‘Too slow, take a sip of beer.’ The man took a sip. ‘Assemble the weapon ready to fire,&= #8217; Johno directed, pointing at an MP5 on the next table. The man got to work, struggling to focus.

Johno threw a stun grenade. ‘Grenade!’ A guard angrily kicked it away. ‘Otto! Get that fucker off the field, I want his name.’

The rest of the guards slowly scram= bled back onto their feet and lined up as Otto sat back down.<= /p>

Johno explained, ‘You can tel= l a lot about how someone will work under pressure through an exercise like thi= s. Aggression is good, but it has to be focused, part of the task. They need to focus the anger on the job in hand, not each other or their bosses.’<= o:p>

‘I understand,’ Otto suggested.

‘We can’t take this lot= to war and test them, so we have to do what we can here.’

‘Finished,’ the man assembling the MP5 said, stood to attention.

‘Good. Next!’

Twenty minutes later the men were s= uffering, one more thrown off the field.

‘Now we see,’ Johno sai= d with a wink as he stood and approached the line of men, Otto following him. ‘Get into groups of three!’

It took a few seconds, but they did= so, one odd group of two left over. Johno pointed at a guard and told him to jo= in them. ‘OK, one man is injured, two must carry him around the field. F= resh guard, you are the injured man. Go! Quick!’

Five minutes later one guard punched another, taken off the field, as was the man he hit. Groups reformed.<= /o:p>

Johno laughed at them as they strug= gled along like a bunch of drunks. ‘Otto, those taken off - don’t pu= nish them, just note them down for more pressure training. People react in diffe= rent ways when they’re drunk, not like when they’re in combat.’= ;

Otto nodded. One team fell and coul= d not be bothered to get back up. They were sent off, their names noted.

Johno threw a stun grenade. ‘Grenade!’

Two groups laid down their injured = man quickly, one threw down the injured man and several just collapsed in a hea= p, several being sent off.

‘Get up!’ They began ag= ain. ‘In-coming!’

They ducked down, one group very sl= owly and getting themselves kicked off the field.

‘Everyone to the tables! C’mon, move it.’

The remaining six stood in front of= the tables. Each took a beer.

‘Make safe the weapon in front!’

They grabbed the MP5s laid out for = them. Bang! A blank round was accidentally discharged.

‘Idiot! Send him off!’ = Now just five remained. ‘Make ready your weapons, safety off.’ They= did as they were asked. ‘Lie down. Crawl ten yards.’

Bang!

‘Get that fucker off the field!’ Johno barked, the man being removed.

The last four crawled ten yards, tu= rned and crawled back and stood.

Johno faced Otto. ‘OK, when m= y arse is in trouble, I want these four stood right next to me. Understand?’=

Otto smiled as Johno shook hands wi= th each exhausted man.

‘Made me hungry all this exer= cise has,’ Johno said, patting his stomach. He and Otto stepped away toget= her.

‘I have ordered a replacement fridge for you,’ Otto reported.

‘The one on the dungeon not w= orking proper?’

‘No, that one … = is fine,’ Otto flatly stated. ‘It was the tall fridge in the guard commanders building – the other side of the wall to the target you fi= red at. The men sat in the room thought they were under attack.’

Johno stopped and faced Otto, offer= ing a mildly concerned look. ‘Sorry, Boss. Am I in trouble now?’=

‘No, of course not,’ Ot= to said with a grin as they continued on their course. ‘You did what Bee= sely thought you would do. You did, apparently … scent mark your territory. You peed on your spot.’

Johno laughed as they walked on.

 

***

 

The quarter final of the African League football competition was about to start. Both teams stood lined up with the referee and the two linesmen.=

The national anthem of Sierra Leone= had already been played, its players stood proudly with their heads held high a= nd their chests out. Now it came the turn of Zimbabwe, playing on home turf, t= heir President in the stand.

‘Stick … a … chic= ken in the air, stick a deckchair up your nose, buy a jumbo jet and then bury all = your clothes…’ blasted out of the speakers.

Without realising it, the Zimbabwean President was tapping his foot to the music.

 

4

=  

In the Tivoli hills, Pepi stared hard at the psychiatrist’s report on Jo= hno. He glanced at the man who had brought it in, then returned to the report. He shrugged and made a face. ‘He’s right, a male lion should have a better name.’

      =

 

Johno had selected Sky News on his large plasma television, Otto sat next to him = with a beer. The lift opened with a ‘ping’.

Otto glanced around as Beesely approached. ‘How was the shopping? Jane is good, yes?’

Beesely nodded as he approached, ha= nds clasped behind his back.

Johno shouted, ‘Shut up, here= it is.’

Beesely stood behind Johno, who pas= sed up a bottle without taking his gaze off the large screen built into the ceilin= g.

‘Sky news on the hour, this j= ust in. Royal Air Force jets today intercepted two flights from Europe, one fro= m Paris and one from Amsterdam. Both of those country’s governments have laun= ched official complaints, as has the head of the European Union

‘Wankers!’ Johno shoute= d.

‘The jets were forced to land= at RAF Brize Norton, where they were met by armed police and SAS counter-terro= rist teams-

‘Go boys!’

- who boarded the flights. Passengers were said to be terrified, but grateful that they did not fly across the Atlantic with two potential hijackers on board<= /span>.’

Beesely sat down.=

The home secretary had this to say a short while ago: the French and Dutch governments are in no position to criticise the British police and intellig= ence services, nor our glorious armed forces in this action today. These Pakista= ni nationals were staying in those countries using false passports, having fir= st entered illegally - otherwise we would not be in this situation. We shall be making complaints at the highest levels to these governments. We shall also= be asking questions of the Italians as to how, in this day and age of terror, = this pair managed to enter Italy on fake passports. If the French Interior Minis= try was not half asleep –’

‘Oooh, that’s going to = hurt in the morning,’ Johno suggested.

‘Well,’ Beesely began, ‘if you’re going to piss-off your European partners, then you m= ay as well do them all at once.’

      The news continued, pictures of RAF jets, armed police, political comment. They watc= hed the whole story at least three times over.

      BeeselyR= 17;s phone rang, surprising him. He held it up for Otto to see. ‘This thing works down here?’

      Otto explai= ned, ‘There are signal relays inside most of the rooms, but the signal is = not one hundred percent.’

      Beesely pre= ssed the phone’s green button. ‘Beesely here.’

      ‘Dame= Helen for you, sir,’ came a professional female voice.

      ‘Put = her through ... Dame Helen? Not still at work I hope. Busy day?’

      ‘Like= a mad house. The Europeans going crazy, Americans not happy, two meetings with the Minister.’

      ‘Soun= ds hectic. I was just relaxing with a beer.’

      ‘That sounds much better than my agenda for the next few hours.’=

      ‘Oh d= ear. Be home late?’

      ‘No, = be staying up in town.’

      ‘So, = how are things panning out today?’

      ‘They confessed.’

      ‘They confessed?’ Beesely kicked Otto’s leg, and then tapped Johno wi= th his beer bottle.

      ‘Yes,= it seems they changed their minds about martyrdom.’

      ‘What= was their plan?’ Beesely enquired.

      ‘To m= eet a contact in Canada, they didn’t know who. After that they would be briefed.’

=       ‘Sounds about right. They would not be briefed until ready to do the job, al-Qa’eda realises now that phones and emails are not secure.’<= /span>

      ‘Anyw= ay, thanks. I mentioned you to the Minister.’

      ‘No n= eed, you take the glory. I’m not looking for any merit badges. But there is one thing I might ask for as a favour.’

      ‘What= ’s that?’ she nervously enquired.

      ‘The = head of MI5, what’s he like?’

      ‘Rawl= ins? God, don’t get me started on him.’

      ‘Not = much of a charmer I hear.’

      ‘Likes conflict, likes to rub people up the wrong way; not popular amongst his own staff. I’ve always found him difficult, so does the Minister.’<= o:p>

      ‘You = have anyone ... inside?’ Beesely delicately broached.

      ‘You = might think that, I couldn’t possibly comment,’ rolled off her tongue= .

      ‘Well= , not to worry for the moment, but I might end up going toe-to-toe with him. Depe= nds on whether or not he upsets some friends of mine.’<= /p>

      ‘Rumo= ur has it he has some vices,’ she informed him.

      ‘Oh d= ear, they do have a nasty habit of slipping out.’

      ‘Don&= #8217;t forget my ring side seat.’

      ‘Will= do. Don’t work too hard now. Bye, bye.’

      ‘One = more thing,’ she called. ‘If you should happen to come across who= msoever is dumping illegal weapons at UK police stations, tell that individual that there are some senior figures in the British establishment who are rather delighted with the way things are going. Concerned, but delighted. There ar= e lots of favours being accrued.’

      ‘I= 217;ll pass it along ... should I come across such a person.’ Beesely pressed Red followed by Green. ‘Beesely here. I want to find out everything we can about the head of MI5, Rawlins his name is, especially his private life= . I want your best agents to discreetly monitor his activities outside of work,= but they must be very careful. He is, after all, the head of British Intelligen= ce. Thanks.’

      ‘Do y= ou think he is dirty?’ Otto asked.

      Beesely mad= e a face, suggesting he did not know or care either way.

 

* * *

 

Mr. Grey selected a recently dialled number. ‘Didn’t wake you, did = I, sir?’

      ‘I was having a pee,’ came the whispered reply from Oliver Stanton, Chairman= of The Lodge. ‘It was on silent, but I saw the light.’<= /span>

      ‘Thou= ght you might be up playing with the puppies. Bertha had what ... four?’<= o:p>

      ‘How = did you know?’ Stanton whispered.

      ‘Sally text’d me after the first one popped out. How are they?’

      ‘She&= #8217;s asleep in the snug with them.’

      ‘You&= #8217;re going to need to find some more homes for them, sir. Third time now?’=

      ‘Goin= g to have her fixed!’ They laughed. ‘What’s new from across the pond?’

      ‘Bees= ely tipped off the local CIA about two al-Qa’eda suspects, Brits grabbed them. I think he tipped them off as well, playing one against the other,’ Mr. Grey explained.

      ‘You = may not see the pattern, but this spider is spinning an intricate web; I’= ll explain it at some point. He’s working undercover. Again.’

      ‘He&#= 8217;s got me confused, sir,’ Mr. Grey admitted.

      ‘You = need to understand the history. Some pieces of the puzzle you don’t have. = So ... you want a puppy?’

‘Not fucking likely, sir.R= 17; They laughed.

‘Night.’

      =

5

=  

Johno ambled into Beesely’s office a few hours later. ‘Got some dirt = on Rawlins at MI5.’

      Beesely put= down his old fountain pen. ‘Really?’

=       ‘Well, not really dirt as such. But it seems he used to frequent late night gambli= ng dens, now does it all on-line.’

      ‘Debt= s?’

      Johno grima= ced. ‘Not really. Spent six grand this year, lost it.’

      Beesely considered it. ‘Still, out of his salary it’s a chunk.’

      ‘I ha= d an idea.’

      Beesely eas= ed back, amused. ‘Go on.’

      ‘Mate= I know does the same thing; on-line poker. The people you play poker against = are just numbers, like Roger-26, all anonymous. So if we signed up some dodgy foreign terrorist to the on-line site and –’<= /p>

      ‘Rawl= ins won money off him …’ Beesely finished off.

      Johno grinn= ed. ‘It would look bad if the papers found out.’<= /p>

      ‘Not = as stupid as you look, are you.’ Beesely put his glasses back on. ‘Your project, go supervise. Practise being a sneaky little shit.R= 17;

      Johno heade= d from the door. ‘I learnt from the best.’

      ‘I he= ard that! Oh, by the way, Johno….’

      Johno came = back in as Beesely thrust a credit card towards him. Inspecting it, Johno asked coyly, ‘My own little expense account?’

      ‘Acco= rding to Otto, that credit card gives you the power of God around here.’ Beesely tipped his head, a slight grin forming. ‘I’d be interes= ted to see how the locals react to it. Field test it as only you could.’

‘Talking of test= ing things,’ Johno began as he took out his satellite phone. He pressed t= he green button. ‘This is Johno. Put me through to the UK Alzheimer̵= 7;s Association.’

‘Johno,’ B= eesely quietly admonished.

‘Hello?’ c= ame a female voice.

‘Who’s that?’ Johno asked.

‘Who am I? This = is the Alzheimer’s Association. How may I direct your call?’

‘Why are you rin= ging me?’ Johno enquired, a smile creased into one cheek, Beesely shaking = his head.

‘I’m sorry= ? You rang us, sir.’

‘Did I? Why did = I do that?’

‘Are you OK, sir= ?’

    =   ‘Yes.’ He waited. ‘Who’s that?’

    =   A sigh could be heard from the other end. ‘This is the Alzheimer’s Association. Are you the gentleman I spoke to before?’

      ‘Yes. Who’s that?’

 

* * *

 

The chairman of the Virginia Lodge read the detail of a file as the others sat waiting. Finally, he raised his head. ‘He’s building up contacts and favours in the world’s intelligence community. But instead of com= ing directly to us, he’s making it appear that he is him, not h= im one of us - if that makes sense. He’s planting a lie within a lie. It’s also a clear message to us.’

      ‘How so?’ a man asked.

      ‘He c= ould have come to us and we would have ordered the CIA to assist him. Instead, h= is actions were bound to draw our attention by doing it this way. Some private joke if I know him.’

      ‘His actions seem a bit ... eccentric,’ a man ventured.<= /p>

      ‘You = ever met him?’ the chairman asked, a rhetorical question. ‘He invent= ed eccentric. The naked ladies, the bird nesting boxes - he’s poking fun= at various people. He also seems to be playing a part, as if someone else was watching him.’

      ‘Who = might be watching him?’ a man asked.

      The chairman smiled. ‘K2 is Swiss, they’re based in Switzerland. Who else, b= ased in Switzerland, might be watching him?’ He waited, opening the palms = of his hands.

      Several fac= es creased into smiles. Henry nodded to himself.

 

 

 


 

The family silver=

=  

1

=  

The next morning, a helicopter f= lew Beesely, Otto and Johno the short distance up to Zurich as Jane accompanied decorators around the castle.

Johno asked a lot of intelligent questions of the pilot, sitting up front and studying the controls of this French-made Squirrel helicopter. Approaching the southern tip of Lake Zuric= h, the pilot allowed Johno to take control, a seamless transfer. Concerned, Ot= to leant forwards and glanced over Johno’s shoulder, but Beesely reassur= ed him of his half-brother’s abilities.

      They flew n= orth, skirting the western edge of the lake, the area below densely populated with houses sprawling up the hillside, but cut by an ugly elevated highway runni= ng north to south. At the northern edge of the lake they arced slowly over the city centre buildings, the commercial centre of the city in view, before turning south and flying parallel to the eastern lakeshore, the area more u= rban and with many red roofs poking through the trees. Doubling back around mid-= lake, they slowly circled over a ferry for close inspection, heading back up the = eastern lakeside and around the eastern edges of the city towards the airport in the north. Otto pointed out many places of interest, and many buildings and businesses that the group owned. Landing at the airport’s helipad, th= ey were met by a convoy of three Range Rovers.

Outside of the airport, they joined= the highway south for a quick journey to the small city. In no particular hurry, they drove past the park and the university, before heading west and through the shabby end of town, past a large railway marshalling yard. Doubling bac= k, they passed through the shopping district and back across the river to the = east to view several banking group buildings before again meandering yet again across the river to the west side, where the bank’s headquarters were located.

      The bank= 217;s main building was a twelve-storey, glass-fronted office block situated a qu= arter mile north of the lake, now glimpsed from within the vehicles. They drove i= nto an underground car park, soon getting the lift to the top floor. The whole = of the top floor was open plan, the lift and stairs a strong central feature t= hat interrupted a completely panoramic view.

      The bank= 217;s CEO, Mathius, occupied a corner office with a spectacular view of the lake spreading away into the distance, the snow covered peaks of the Alps just visible to the south. Beesely and Otto chatted with Mathius and his senior managers for five minutes, Johno peering out of the windows on the north si= de, getting his bearings.

      He had been studying maps of Switzerland since they had arrived, and that morning had scanned a street-map of Zurich in preparation. He could see the split in the river to the east, a large railway marshalling yard a mile north, the bridg= es over the river, apartment blocks and a few business tower blocks, the gentle hills in the distance dotted with houses. Everything here appeared to be mo= stly a drab grey, he noted, not like the ornate wooden houses around Zug. Many of the buildings in view housed decorative red spires, and the strange double-= spire church reminded him of Liverpool for some reason. He took a long moment studying it.

      He could no= t see many tall buildings in the city, perhaps a dozen at most poking higher than= the common grey roofs and treetops. There were more trees than he had imagined,= and the long trams snaking around corners reminded him of a computer game. Look= ing down on three moving at the same time made him feel a little sick; it seeme= d as if the ground beneath him was not solid.

      When it cam= e time to see the vault they were led back down in the lift, down to a sub-level, = and they opened into a small room with two security guards sitting at a desk. T= he guards jumped up, checking everyone in the group carefully. They greeted the CEO and Otto by name, welcoming Beesely and Johno with a professional detachment. The CEO ushered them through a strong door and to a large circu= lar vault segmented into many individual client compartments. Two further secur= ity guards stood at the far end, a third sat at a desk.

Each of the vault’s compartme= nts stood separated from its neighbour by vertical metal bars, floor to ceiling, shiny stainless steel bars around six inches in diameter. Johno and Beesely peeked through the bars. In each section rested a neatly formed block of ei= ther gold or silver, stacked uniformly from around three foot high to about six foot, many small metal trolleys dotted about.

An extremely clean compact forklift= truck parked in a corner made Johno smile. ‘Baby forklift?’ he dryly enquired. He tapped it, as if tapping a child’s shoulder. ‘What= do you want to be when you grow up? A tall crane perhaps?’

      Smiling, th= e CEO led them to one particular cage. ‘We have just executed a large transaction, one foreign government paid out on some bonds and debt to another.’ He pointed. ‘So that stack reduced by around four box= es to that stack over there.’

      ‘How = much was transferred?’ Beesely asked.

      ‘Abou= t two billion dollars.’

      ‘Any souvenirs?’ Johno nudged.

      The CEO ste= pped to the desk and fetched a small gold bar, just three inches long. ‘Th= at is worth about two hundred Euros,’ he explained as he handed it over.=

      Johno held = the small bar, finding it heavier than it appeared. ‘I’m feeling inadequate again.’

      ‘We can’t all have a big one,’ Beesely quipped, making the CEO laugh loudly, an echo caused in the cavernous room.

      Otto led th= em to a cage on the other side. ‘This is yours,’ he quietly, and prou= dly, pointed out. There, in the middle of the cage, stood numerous six-foot high racks of gold bars, twenty feet long and eight feet wide.=

      ‘Coul= d be awkward taking it to the shops,’ Beesely quietly pointed out, his eyes wide.

      Johno stepp= ed up. ‘Hits you when you see it like that, just what you’re worth.= 217; They stared, mesmerized by the stack of gold bars the size of a small bus.<= o:p>

      ‘And that’s not all of it,’ Beesely quietly commented.

      Johno turne= d to face Otto. ‘It’s not ... you know, as golden coloured as I thought.’

=       ‘There are slight variations in colour around the world,’ Otto quietly infor= med him. ‘In the movies you see mostly old, poorly refined gold, a traditional yellow colour.’

      Next came currency. They took the lift up one level, and stepped through a similar security screen before opening a much thicker vault door.=

      ‘This= vault door has been used in several movies,’ the CEO enthusiastically point= ed out.

      ‘I ca= n see why,’ Beesely commented as they entered, the round metal door four fe= et thick.

      Ducking thr= ough, they found similar sized compartments to the gold vaults, but this time with strengthened glass doors and walls separating them. Within each compartment rested blocks of currency in fine mesh baskets, each bundle the size of a house-brick and wrapped in plastic, with a paper band visible inside denoti= ng the various contents. These compartments had not been split by client, but = by currency.

      ‘Arou= nd three billion in various currencies,’ Otto pointed out. ‘Mostly dollars.’

      ‘Not = Euros or Swiss Francs?’ Beesely queried.

      Otto explai= ned, ‘Most of the world’s transactions are done in gold or dollars still, so there are mostly dollars here. Many smaller Swiss banks deposit t= heir dollars with us knowing that they would most likely never be drawn to cash, always an electronic transfer somewhere else. In fact, we have just had a deposit from another bank - deposited by a Nigerian politician - ten millio= n in dollars, still wrapped in labels that came from us. The money was a develop= ment grant, paid to Nigeria by the European Union.’

      Beesely gla= nced at Otto from under his eyebrows. ‘Our taxes at work. I think we shoul= d do something about that. If this fella did not need the money any more it coul= d go to a genuine African charity.’

      The CEO sud= denly seemed ill at ease.

      ‘Any = more souvenirs?’ Johno asked with a grin.

      Otto smiled, walking to the end desk and removing a wad from a cabinet, signing a form f= or it. He handed the thick wad to Johno. ‘There is one note from almost every country in the world. It is only worth around one hundred Euros, but makes an excellent gift, especially for children.’<= /p>

      ‘Than= ks,’ Johno replied, inspecting it. ‘I’ll try not to take that personally.’

=  

2

=  

Otto, Beesely, and several of the bank’s senior staff now headed for their pre-arranged lunch. Johno wa= lked around the corner with them, making his excuses when he noticed a car dealership; something was burning a hole in his pocket.

      It was a BMW dealership, a vintage racing car sat gleaming in the window. Johno ambled i= n, admiring the new BMW 7 Series he had seen as they walked past. With hands in pockets, he circumnavigated the shiny monster, noting this model’s ma= gnolia leather covers and real wood finish.

      ‘Darf= ich Ihnen helfen?’

      Johno turne= d to find an attractive young lady in a white blouse and dark blue pin-stripe sk= irt, long and flowing ginger hair. He cocked an eyebrow and grinned. ‘I sh= ould think so.’

If she noticed the inference, she w= as maintaining a professional detachment. ‘You are tourist?’<= /o:p>

      ‘No.&= #8217; He opened the car door, gesturing her towards the other seat. ‘Why don’t you get in, then you can tell me about this model.’ He slipped in and closed the door.

      Glancing at= the showroom boss, the lady walked around the car and guided a pair of long legs into the passenger seat, trying to be the eternal professional. ‘You = work here, sir, in Zurich? Maybe in finance?’

      Johno ran h= is hands over the car’s interior, lovingly caressing it. She could not h= elp but notice the sensual undertones. ‘Gastarbeiter? Nein,’= he answered without making eye contact. Neutral was already selected, the keys were in the ignition, so he started it up. It purred. He smiled, surprised = that it was fuelled with the battery connected; UK car showrooms often disallowed that.

      ‘Was = it this model you were interested in, sir?’

      ‘Don&= #8217;t call me sir,’ he softly requested, still smiling. ‘I work for a living.’

      The sales assistant frowned her lack of understanding, noticing now her boss walking towards them.

      Johno check= ed the mirror. Two middle-aged women were sitting in a Five Series immediately beh= ind him. ‘Could you close your door please, I want to check the sound proofing.’

      After a moment’s consideration she obliged. Whilst focused on his passenger, Johno slipped into reverse and eased back, smashing the car’s rear li= ghts on the Five Series and shocking the two women sitting in it. ‘Oh dear,’ he muttered.

      ‘Sir!= ’

      He selected ‘drive’, shooting forwards, but catching the brake just in time= to smash the showroom’s front window without going right through it. Reverse, back to where they started off.

      ‘Mein Gott!’

      Amused, Joh= no said, ‘I like it. I’ll take one, but not this one, love - it ne= eds a bit of work.’

      The sales assistant fled the car as he switched the engine off.

 &= nbsp;    Johno eased out, closing the door at a leisurely pace. He stepped around to her as staff descended upon him; or rather moved like Swiss professionals and walk= ed briskly up to a respectful distance. As they quickly spoke to the sales assistant, Johno took out his wallet and the K2 issue credit card. With an amused grin, he approached the girl. Handing over the card, he said, ‘I’ll take one, you’ll get the commission.’

      Still stunn= ed, she took the credit card as the manager squeezed politely by. ‘Sir, y= ou have damaged a car and broken our shop window!’

      Johno shrug= ged. ‘Still learning to drive. Sorry mate.’ He lit up, despite the no smoking signs and looks of horror from the staff.

      The sales assistant had been studying the credit card. Now she took her boss firmly by the elbow and whispered in his ear. The man quickly inspected the credit ca= rd before turning back to Johno. Bowing slightly, he asked, ‘Sir, do you have some other identification on you, please?’

      Johno opene= d his two-part K2 ID for them to see, before opening his jacket to reveal his holstered pistol.

      The manager= again bowed his head, a polite, if somewhat forced smile. ‘Thank you, sir, = we will have a vehicle of this type delivered to where you desire and billed to your account. What ... colour would you like?’

      ‘Do y= ou stock Passion Red?’ Johno asked, straight faced.

      ‘I be= lieve … not, sir.’

‘Silver will do them. I want = it delivered to Schloss Diane in Zug tomorrow. In the meantime, I require this young lady to accompany me to lunch, where she can tell me all about it.= 217; He turned to her and smiled. ‘Have you ever lunched with the director= s of K2?’

Her eyes widened, the manager stiff= ening.

      Across the = street, Mr. Grey fought hard to suppress his laughter.

 

Beesely sat chatting with a group of five on a large table, two additional places b= eing prepared as Johno and his guest entered the restaurant. Beesely glanced at = him from under his eyebrows as he tackled his starter, listening to the bank’s CEO, Mathius.

Johno pulled out a chair for his la= dy guest and sat, two waiters attending. ‘I’m sorry, what is your name?’ he asked, turning to the girl.

      ‘Mitz= i.’

      Johno point= ed around the table. ‘This is Otto, assistant CEO of the group, and this= is Sir Morris Beesely, the big boss of everything.’

=       Beesely smiled politely, greeting her in German, as did the others. Then he turned = his attention to Johno. ‘We shall have to put you in for your driving test soon.’ Johno stopped and stared, wide eyed. Beesely said to the sales assistant, ‘He does drive, expertly in fact. He drives dignitaries around, and is my personal bodyguard. He has walked past your window many t= imes in recent weeks, unsure about whether or not to ask you out. You are, after all, very young and very beautiful. And Johno, well, he has been shot many times protecting people like me, leaving him some scars and ... a little nervous now of approaching girls.’

Mit= zi smiled at Johno, clearly flattered, and a little overwhelmed, squeezing his knee u= nder the table.

      ‘So,&= #8217; Johno whispered. ‘Ginger pubes ... or shaved?’

      Her eyebrow= s shot up.

      ‘Er .= .. Johno?’ Beesely called. ‘The table is not that big. We can ... = hear you.’

      Johno faced= him with a large, false grin. ‘I was kinda hoping she would slap my face = and walk out. That way I could go after her, cock my weapon, and return.’=

      BeeselyR= 17;s features turned to stone. He glanced at Otto, who put his hand in his pocket and pressed his phone three times.

      Johno conti= nued, ‘Otto, your people are sat by the door?’ Otto nodded. ‘And you don’t have anyone behind me?’

      Otto shook = his head, barely noticeable, a concerned look offered.

      Johno maint= ained his false smile. Quietly, he said, ‘Well, then, boys and girls, when I move suddenly … you get the fuck under the table.’ He stopped smiling. ‘Or else.’

      Beesely gla= nced at Mathius and his two deputies, nodding. Then Johno moved.

      Spinning to= the right, he stood and reached inside his jacket, pistol out, turning, grab the slide, pull back. Just as he came to bear on the first man, now looking directly at him with a steely stare, a near-empty soup dish caught him on t= he forehead, thrown by the woman at the table, soup splattering across his fac= e. He had no choice but to close his eyes.

      The closest= man grabbed the end of the pistol, lowering it as he stood, throwing a punch to Johno’s chin a second later. Johno had lurched backwards with the imp= act of the soup dish, and the punch did not make full contact. He landed on his back on a table, a crunch of glass, a sharp pain in his shoulder registerin= g as the women sat at that table yelped. He kicked upwards, catching the man und= er the chin and snapping his head backwards. Stunned, the man wobbled backward= s a step. Sliding forwards off the table to the squat position, Johno jabbed the man in the stomach with his pistol, the man now bent double.

      ‘Halt= !’ screamed out in tandem as two K2 men drew weapons on the second man and the dish-throwing woman. The woman raised her hands, her male colleague, now st= anding, following a second later. Two more armed men ran in, shouting in German for everyone to stay down.

      Johno straightened, pistol-whipping the man who had hit him and knocking the man = to the floor. He knelt on the man’s neck as Otto and Beesely approached, pistol to the man’s temple. ‘Who are you?’ he roared.

      ‘CIA,= ’ the man quickly let out.

      Johno raise= d his head to Beesely, offering an apologetic look. He dragged the man upright by= the collar. ‘Sorry about that, Boss.’

      ‘Don&= #8217;t be,’ Beesely firmly suggested. He faced the man. ‘What station = do you work out of?’ he demanded.

      The man too= k a breath, glancing unhappily from face to face, breathing heavily. ‘Berlin,’ he answered, a distinct Germanic accent.

      The sound of police sirens followed a few seconds later by two police cars screeching to= a halt outside.

      ‘Remo= ve them,’ Beesely ordered, but with no anger in his voice. Half turning = his head to Otto, he said, ‘Check carefully who they are, please.’ = He sat back down and called the manager over to his table as the police and K2 agents removed the three apparent CIA agents, Mathius and his colleagues ea= sing up from under the table.

      ‘Sir?= ’ the manager nervously asked.

      ‘Firs= t, I would like to apologise for what just happened.’

      ‘We o= wn this restaurant,’ Otto curtly, and firmly, pointed out as he sat.

      ‘Oh,&= #8217; Beesely let out, a glance toward Otto. He focused on the manager again. ‘Still, I want everyone here given a free meal as compensation, a free gift of your best wine or champagne.’  The manager bowed and retreated as= Johno sat back down.  Beesely pointe= dly remarked, ‘Johno, you have soup all over you.’

      Johno picke= d up a napkin and wiped his face and suit. ‘Tomato, not bad.’

=       ‘Sir?’ a concerned young waiter called. Johno lifted head. ‘You have a piece= of glass in your back, and you are bleeding.’

      ‘You = have a small cut on your face as well,’ Beesely unhappily pointed out. =

Otto raised his phone and called an ambulance.

‘So, been here a whole ... two days,’ Beesely noted, sighing.

      Johno shrug= ged. ‘Didn’t like having two armed men sat behind me.’<= o:p>

      BeeselyR= 17;s eyes narrowed. ‘They were armed?’ Johno nodded. Beesely faced O= tto with a studious look. ‘That’s not so unusual, but being spotted= is - risking getting noticed, arrested, a diplomatic incident.’

      ‘I= 217;ve spent a lifetime looking for bulges under jackets,’ Johno pointed out= , now rubbing himself down. ‘As well as down good cleavages.’

=       ‘We must interrogate these people,’ Otto quietly suggested, anger in his voice.

      ‘No,&= #8217; Beesely emphasised. ‘They keep an eye on us, we watch them.’ He waved a hand. ‘There are probably some MI6 assets around here somewhe= re, sniffing around. We do not cause problems for each other.’ He = left his gaze on Otto, who finally gave a respectful head tip. ‘They identified themselves straight away, so they were not being aggressive, just second grade watchers.’ Softer, he said, ‘It’s almost as = if we were meant to spot them, and to shoot them full of holes … in a pu= blic place.’

      Beesely too= k in the scene as people continued with their lunch. ‘No screams or panic?’ he puzzled.

      ‘They= are Swiss,’ Otto pointed out. ‘And most work for you at the bank.’

      ‘Chri= stmas party must be a riot,’ Johno muttered. He turned, to find the girl now gone. ‘Bugger. Must have been something I said.’


A bigger stick

=  

1

=  

The next day, the Swiss Government came to the castle to discuss the Serbian problem. Herr Blaum was accompanied by the Foreign Secretary, a plump man of forty-five with thick black hair.

      ‘I wo= uld have come up to you in Bern, you know,’ Beesely offered as they shook hands.

      ‘It is fine,’ Blaum emphatically replied. ‘Here is a short beautiful drive, and we can pretend we are busy out of the office.’<= /span>

      Beesely smi= led formally. ‘Of course. Which way do you come normally, north route or south?’

      ‘Sout= h route is quite beautiful - you have the lakes. Longer, for sure, but nicer,’ Blaum explained.

      Beesely sho= ok the hand of the Foreign Minister. ‘Mr. Delgarcia. Welcome.’

      ‘Than= k you, Sir Morris. I have heard good things. You are not like Herr Gunter.’<= o:p>

      Beesely set= tled his guests around his desk. ‘No one … was like Herr Gunt= er, thank God!’ They laughed. ‘Tea, coffee?’

      Beesely mad= e sure that they were relaxed, placing some fresh cake in front of them, Otto join= ing them a minute later and closing the door. Beesely began, ‘Sorry to br= ing you both down here, but as Otto has already mentioned we have a problem with some elements of the Serbian Government, and industrialists.’

      The Foreign Minister suddenly turned serious. ‘It is not surprising; they used to= be a large and powerful country, a large economic bloc under Tito. The West deliberately spread dissension in Croatia and Bosnia. They started the war,= not the Serbians!’

=       ‘Quite likely, Minister, and I do not disagree with you. But the break-up of the o= ld Yugoslavia has strengthened NATO’s southern border and provided some new allies for us in the form of Slovenia and Croatia. Not a bad thing. Gentlemen, I am not here to justify the break-up of the old Yugoslavia. I a= sked you here today to request your kind assistance in trying to repair any dama= ge done to relations between Switzerland and Serbia by the late Gunter.’=

      The Ministe= rs glanced at each other.

‘A noble aim,’ Blaum of= fered.

      ‘And = quite the full circle,’ Delgarcia noted.

      ‘New management,’ Beesely firmly stated, tapping the desk hard with a finger. 

      Delgarcia a= sked, ‘What did you have in mind?’

      ‘A sm= all summit, an official invitation to their Foreign Minister, along with their intelligence chiefs, and also those elements of the private security compan= ies that Gunter had problems with.’

      Otto leant forwards. ‘In fairness to Gunter, he did not start this problem. The Serbians began to kill business rivals in the west, to get involved in drugs and guns in the Czech Republic, and their government seems to have previous= ly ignored these actions. Gunter fought back when directors in some of our companies were threatened and then killed.’

      The Ministe= rs nodded their acceptance of that.

      ‘It&#= 8217;s a fair point,’ Beesely conceded. ‘But the way in which he retaliated could have been better handled.’

  =     Blaum offered Beesely a strong glare. ‘Receiving a video of your employees = getting the chair will always cause a problem, I think.’

      ‘Most certainly,’ Beesely agreed.

 

At the drawbridge, the Ministers paused before getting into their cars.

      ‘Is t= here any British agenda here?’ Blaum asked Otto.

      Otto claspe= d his hands behind his back. ‘If there is, I do not see what it is … other than to mend relationships as he suggested.’<= /p>

      ‘Could British Intelligence be interested in using us to get access to Serbia?R= 17; Delgarcia probed.

      ‘Bees= ely is not trusted by British Intelligence,’ Otto informed them.<= /span>

      The Ministe= rs were surprised.

      ‘Why not?’ Delgarcia asked.

      ‘Bees= ely ran operations for MI6 many years ago, finally into Kosovo. One mission went wrong, the man Johno being injured. The British Government refused a rescue plan, so Beesely funded one himself. Since then they have been at odds, des= pite the fact that they used his services on many occasions for unauthorised operations.’

      The Ministe= rs glanced at each other before getting into their car. As they drove away, Ot= to watched them with a studious frown. He lowered his head for a minute, think= ing, before stepping back inside.

 

With Johno sat on Beesely’s desk, Beesely remarked, ‘I just discussed Gunter’s methods of disposing of people he didn’t like … = with two Swiss Government Ministers.’

      ‘And?= ’

      ‘They didn’t react in a way a Government Minister should. They knew. Not on= ly that, they seemed to tolerate it.’

      Johno cocke= d an eyebrow. ‘Tail wagging the dog around here?’<= /p>

=       Beesely offered Johno a small shrug. ‘Anyway, I’ve got a job for you.’

 

The Swiss Ministers had agreed to send the invitation, and to try and get the Serbians there for the weekend, Johno having been sent back to the UK to get some ‘kit’ and to round up a few instructors. Now, Beese= ly just had to trick the CIA into lending him some hardware, the Swiss into letting them in, and the Serbians into falling for a bit of smoke and mirro= rs. It would be a challenge, but great fun trying.

      Beesely mad= e a call. ‘Burke, Beesely here.’

      ‘Ah, Beesely. How’s the weather down in the country?’

      ‘I= 217;m in Switzerland, old chap.’

      ‘Ah, = right. Isn’t that where your secret headquarters are?’

      ‘Noth= ing quite so dramatic, this is where our business interests are, research and computers, you know.’

      ‘Sure. How’s the weather there then?’

      ‘It&#= 8217;s lovely, clear sky, nice view of the lake. Anyway, need a favour.’

      ‘What= would that be?’

      ‘Well= , it seems that the Serbians are trying to kiss and make-up with a few governmen= ts around here; Swiss, Austrians, Germans and Italians.’

      ‘They= were supposed to be on our side after that thing in Kosovo and their elections, = now they just elected a bunch of right-wing pro-Russian nationalist guys to the= ir parliament. There’re going to be more problems there!’

      ‘Quit= e. Anyway, seems the Swiss have asked me to host some of the talks since we ow= n a lot of land down here, hotels and the like. And, with my connections, I see= med best suited.’

      ‘Anyt= hing you can do to … derail these talks?’ Burke softly enquired.

      ‘Well= , I should think so, but I could do with a bit of help.’

      ‘What d’ya need, Beesely?’ Burke reluctantly asked.=

      ‘I co= uld do with a show of force, a bit of hardware to make these Serbs think we are ju= st that bit tougher than we are.’

      ‘Swiss would never let us in.’

      ‘Not normally, no, but I had a sneaky idea. You see, in the summer there are var= ious medical rescue exercises here, up in the mountains, the Germans sending down doctors in helicopters to winch people off mountains.’

      ‘Yeah, yeah.’

      ‘So if there was an American military team here, from Germany, all medical staff wearing combat gear, and who just happened to be parked up on my private ru= nway when the Serbs landed –’

      ‘They= ’d think the Swiss Government had allowed our military in,’ Burke noted,= his enthusiasm growing.

      ‘Whic= h the Swiss would emphatically deny –’

      ‘Caus= ing a lot of distrust … and the talks break down. I like the way you think,= Beesely. Still, it won’t be easy. I’ll have to get back to you.’

      ‘Just= let your boss know that the head of Serbian Intelligence should be popping over, same chap who sold your crashed Stealth Fighter to the Russians a few years back.’

      ‘Hell= , I might just have to pop down myself,’ Burke offered.

      ‘I was counting on it. We’ll send a plane for you when we’re further along.’

 

2

=  

= ‘What’s up, Doc?’

=       Dr. Manning looked up from his desk. ‘Johno?’

=       ‘In t= he flesh.’ Johno slipped into a familiar leather chair.

=       ‘I ... wasn’t expecting you. Is everything OK with you?’ He squinted w= ithout his glasses. ‘Are you hurt?’

=       Johno touch= ed the stitches in his forehead. ‘Don’t start on the psycho-babble, not that kind of visit.’ He handed Manning a cheque.

=       ManningR= 17;s eyes widened. ‘From … Beesely?’

=       ‘Not = ... exactly,’ Johno said with a pained expression and a slight smile. ‘You’re not to repeat this, but Beesely has come into some mone= y. One part of his family were Swiss, all dead now, so he inherited a Swiss bank.’

=       ‘A Sw= iss bank?’

=       ‘Worth billions, so I hear,’ Johno stated very matter of fact.

=       ‘Wort= h ... billions!’

=       ‘Like= I said, you ain’t supposed to know.’

=       Manning stu= died the cheque. ‘Well ... thank him for me.’

=       Johno laugh= ed. ‘It’s not for you, plonker.’

=       ‘It&#= 8217;s not?’

=       ‘No, = it was my idea. That’s for ex-soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.’ He lifted his gaze and tipped his head, a quizzical frown forming. ‘Which I used to think had the initials PMT for some reason. Anyway, I want you to fix ‘em all up, as you did for me.’<= /o:p>

=       Manning squ= inted at Johno, offering a sceptical look. ‘I would be very surprised if anything I said had any effect on you.’

=       ‘Don&= #8217;t sell yourself short, Doc, coming here kept me sane. Well, it kept me in blowjobs from lap dancers, and that kept me sane. So you helped a lot.’

=       Manning eyes widened. ‘You’ll forgive me if I don’t enter that into yo= ur notes.’

=       ‘Fair enough.’ Johno stood. ‘Oh, we’re living in Switzerland no= w, big castle, underground complex, back in the game.’=

=       ‘Back= in the game?’ Manning was worried.

=       ‘Don&= #8217;t worry, Doc. If I get shot up you get some more business. Anyway, that money= - I want you and your band of merry shrinks flat out looking for ex-soldiers go= ing loopy. More when it runs out.’ He left.

=       For a full = minute Manning did not move, he just stared at the door, or the cheque.=

 

*= * *

=  

As Johno walked into a private function room of a country pub, just outside Hereford, the cacophony of numerous overlapping conversations quickly ebbed away. Smoke filled the upper half of this run-down and poorly decorated roo= m, despite the new ‘no-smoking’ signs. Numerous half-drunk pints w= ere littered about the table, two men playing darts.

      ‘John= o, you’re looking old and fat!’

‘What happened to your face?&= #8217;

‘It’s your round, sonny!’

      Johno tippe= d his head, stood in his faded black suit. ‘My round, you say?’ He to= ok a thick wad of fifties out of his jacket pocket and tossed it to the man who = had made the suggestion.

      ‘Who&= #8217;d you rob?’ the man asked as he examined it. ‘Must be five grand here!’

      ‘That enough to shut up you old wankers for two minutes?’ Johno asked, kick= ing the door shut behind him. He had their attention. Stepping to the edge of t= he table where the men sat, Johno began, ‘Old man Beesely is recruiting,= but no one who’s still in. And I don’t want any short-timer whoR= 17;s contracted to a private agency or pissing about in Baghdad.’

      ‘What= ’s the job?’

      ‘That= depends on the individual. If they are young, fit and able, and want to go over the wall ... then they can do so.’

      ‘You don’t expect any of us to go Rambo, do you?’<= /span>

      Johno glanc= ed around at the ageing faces. Most were now in their fifties, bald or greying. ‘No, we need you for some training.’

      ‘What= kinda training? And where?’

      Johno took a breath. ‘It’s simple, no risk to life or limb, lots of cash. You’ll be in Europe; hot showers, warm food and five star hotels. You’ll be training some spooks in field-craft, plus assessing an exis= ting counter-terrorism and hostage rescue team.’

      The men gla= nced at each other.

      ‘What= ’s the catch?’ a man asked from the back.

      ‘Firs= t, you’ll be working with me.’

      Howls of de= rision echoed around the room.

      ‘Yeah, thought that would cheer you up. Second, you’ll be taking direct orde= rs from old man Beesely.’

      The men fell silent, a few nods exchanged.

      ‘Thir= d. The people you’ll be working with are very secretive, paranoid, and if you accidentally tell the newspapers who you’re working with they’ll kill you, your family, your grandchildren, your pet dog, and then follow yo= ur family tree so far back that you’ll have never fucking existed!’= ;

      ‘Soun= ds dodgy, Johno.’

=       ‘It doesn’t have to be, you just need to keep your traps shut. They’= ;ll treat you all very well, Beesely will make sure of that.’ He raised a pointed finger. ‘But make no mistake, breach their security deliberat= ely and there’ll be one hell of a penalty. If you’re on board then = you can expect your phones to be tapped, especially mobiles, your homes to be bugged and watched, your movements monitored.’

=       Many shifted uneasily in their seats, looks exchanged.

=       Johno added, ‘They’ll send someone around to chit-chat to your family= , posing as a milkman or a copper. If the missus knows what she ain’t supposed= to you, get the chop with no money. It would be up to Beesely to stop them from hurting you.’

      ‘Why = so much security?’

      ‘Thes= e boys are sharp; they protect a lot of wealthy people, transporting a lot of dosh around the world. They run casino and bank security … and they take t= heir work seriously. Fine, let them, that’s not your problem. This deal is twelve weeks at a time, train the boys, create some training programmes, ta= ke some of their team to Belize, some to the desert, money is no object. You e= ach get two grand a week in cash, that’s a hundred grand a year in used twenties. Plus all costs are met, all billets and food, any medical bills a= nd transport there and back in a posh fucking Learjet.’

      Murmurs of approval bounced around.

      ‘It&#= 8217;s not so bad,’ a man began. ‘Most of us have done stuff for Her Majesty’s Government we never discuss. Not so difficult clamming up f= or a hundred grand a year.’

      Grunts of approval were exchanged.

      ‘And = if MI5 put you under pressure on your return?’ Johno firmly pressed.

      ‘Have= to create a good cover story,’ the man suggested, laughing. ‘The missus has been swallowing those for years!’ From the laughter, he was not alone.

      ‘I= 217;m in.’ Two men raised their hands.

      ‘List= en, Johno, do you think they could kill my wife anyway?’

      Hysterical laughter filled the room; a beer mat flew at Johno, thrown like a Frisbee.<= o:p>

      Johno began giving out business cards. ‘That’s my number for you lot. If you know any boys interested in some wet work they can contact Max at AGN Secur= ity. Right, now get some frigging drinks in!’

 

For the flight back, Johno had three sleepy guests, the remainder would follow. These three ‘had no lives, no wives, and just a kit bag of clothes and memories’ as one of them had described it. Johno watched them as they slept off the hangover.

      These men, = now well into their fifties, could train or assess the world’s best counter-terrorism teams, yet in Hereford they were claiming the dole, sitti= ng in the garden deckchair and slowly wasting away. Their wives had long since left, kids grown up and gone, leaving them with their memories of glory and= a few fading photos on the mantelpiece, plus numerous novels started but never finished.

      Two of thes= e men had been on the Falklands when Johno had landed, the men sneaking about beh= ind enemy lines and killing at will. The other had been on the Argentine-Chilean border before being caught and swapped six months after the end of the conflict. He had been tortured. Now, Johno had the power and the money to h= elp his old mentors regain their self-respect.

 

* * *

 

Standing just outside the castle’s courtyard, Otto dialled a number. ‘Minister? It is Otto.’

      ‘How = goes it?’

      ‘They= have begun to recruit ex-SAS instructors.’

      ‘As y= ou predicted. Good, keep me informed please.’

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

A prize more valued

 

1

=  

Otto seemed pensive. ‘What is it?’ Beesely asked as they walked thro= ugh the grounds, down towards the lake.

      ‘I ha= ve a request from ... from the secret Swiss banking organization.’

      Beesely tur= ned his head and frowned a question as they walked. ‘I thought we … were the secret banking organization?’

=       ‘K2 is the security agency within this banking group, but there are many other banking groups. The men who wish to see you are from the original secret banking organization, started a hundred years ago - maybe three hundred.= 217; He coughed out a nervous laugh, unusual for him. ‘There is an official banking confederation, this other group sits behind them - the real power.&= #8217;

Beesely studied Otto carefully. ‘This group, they’re powerful?’

      ‘In financial terms yes, they are much bigger than our bank, perhaps one hundred times bigger. But they are not as logistically powerful as K2. They sometim= es use K2 for their dirty work, as you say.’

      ‘So w= hat do they want?’ Beesely probed.

      ‘They= have heard you are more approachable than Gunter,’ Otto explained.

      Beesely sho= t a glance at Otto. ‘Not much of a recommendation, my lad!’

      ‘They= wish to meet as soon as possible; they have many grievances, not least the succe= ss of our bank at their expense.’

      ‘Is it … at their expense? I mean, if they are a hundred times bigger?’= ;

      ‘Not really. But when we find out about company take-overs we do not tell them, = so they lose out potential gains. We also get oil trading information which th= ey do not.’

      ‘Gain= s they would make if they were in bed with us.’ Beesely clasped his hands be= hind his back. ‘I see. So, how did Gunter relate to them?’

      ‘He w= ould meet with them when he was younger, but he wanted to be their leader, and he wanted them to be more aggressive and to kill competitors.’

      ‘They= had no stomach for it?’

      ‘No. = They always wanted to be very discreet,’ Otto pointed out.

      ‘But = they have used K2 for dirty work?’

      ‘When= they needed, but they did not want Gunter to have a hold over them.’<= /o:p>

=       ‘I see no reason why we should not patch things up. Arrange a meeting here –’

      ‘No, = they will not come here. This group meets in secret, only at night, a place that= is quiet. We own a hotel on a hillside not far away - it has been used before = for such meetings. I will arrange the meeting for tonight.’

      Beesely sto= pped. ‘Tonight?’

      Otto looked apologetic. ‘They are insistent in their need to see you.’=

      Beesely bre= athed out. ‘I guess we best shine our shoes then.’<= /p>

      ‘Gunt= er always said this.’

      ‘What= ?’ Beesely snapped.

      ‘It is common for Swiss to have the shined shoes. When I was a boy, Gunter said th= is often.’

      Beesely mad= e a face. ‘Hope I do not remind you of him too often.’ They walked on. ‘How much influence does this group have over the Swiss Government?’

      ‘The = Swiss Government is as much regional, by canton, as it is Federal. And this group … they are the real power.’

      Beesely too= k in the view. ‘So, around here the tail wags the dog.’

      ‘I ha= ve heard this English saying –’

      ‘It m= eans, the criminals run the prison.’

‘Ah. We say … the skier= s run the competition, not the judges.’

Beesely cracked a smile. ‘I s= hall have to remember that one.’

 

* * *

 

The short distance to the nominated hillside hotel became noteworthy in the num= ber of Range Rovers Beesely spotted parked on corners. A police checkpoint gree= ted them at the start of the private road leading to the hotel, IDs shown, two = more groups of K2 agents checking the vehicle along that road.=

      Beesely fou= nd the hotel’s car park to be decidedly cosy, and literally bumper-to-bumper with expensive cars, numerous agents with dogs patrolling the narrow spaces between lines of vehicles. All of the members at this meeting were supposed= to arrive within ten minutes of each other and leave in a similar manner, part= of a strange ritual that Otto had explained earlier.

      All day Bee= sely had considered that Otto was nervous. It had taken some thought as to why, = and, in a quiet corner away from everyone, he asked, ‘What would this group say and do if they knew about Gunter’s death, and your secret-within-a-secret Jewish group?’

      Otto had ta= ken a long time answering. ‘A recent survey put ten percent of Swiss answer= ing ‘yes’ to being anti-Jewish. That is, of those that answered truthfully.’

‘And if people thought that y= our group was…’

‘There would be open warfare,= with the Swiss Government on their side. We could not be shut down because we are Jewish, the world’s newspapers would make such a big problem. But they would find a reason to give us problems, the Government.’<= /span>

‘And this … society<= /i>?’

‘They would wish us ... gone.’

      Beesely nod= ded to himself. ‘And we’d be the ones getting the chair!’ He too= k a breath. ‘So ... no pressure.’

      The delegat= es to this secret meeting sat gathered around a large table, the lights turned do= wn low, Beesely and Otto ushered in by non-K2 men wearing sombre black suits w= ith striking white gloves. Beesely stopped and surveyed the scene; old men in s= mart suits, the suits blackened by the dim lights, the tabletop completely clear. Then he just waited in the doorway. After almost thirty seconds, delegates = were starting to glance around at him. As did a nervous Otto. =

He tipped his head towards Otto. ‘We own this hotel?’ Otto nodded. ‘Turn the lights up a b= it, and then organize some food and drink.’

=       ‘That= is not customary,’ the nearest man pointed out in a heavily accented Germanic voice.

      ‘If y= ou wish to hold onto custom, gentlemen, then we could continue to treat you as Herr Gunter previously did.’ He waited, deliberately placing his hand= s in his pockets, a slight insult within Swiss etiquette.

      The delegat= es glanced at each other for ten seconds. Finally, Beesely firmly ordered the lights up, drinks and food. Only then did he walk around to the only availa= ble seat, conspicuously not at the head of the table. He touched the seat back = and then pushed it in. By standing, his head remained the highest in the room. =

‘I always thought that it was customary for the Swiss to greet a visitor standing, with a handshake and e= ye contact, and not to sit with one’s hands below the table?’=

      They glance= d at each other. He was, after all, correct.

      ‘Gent= lemen, you hold onto your … outfit’s traditions, nothing wrong = with that, and something I understand very well. But I am English, not Swiss, an= d we are here tonight because of a break in tradition; the loss of Gunter and my arrival here. It has been suggested to me that you were not happy with Gunt= er. Well, you and the rest of the civilised world.’ He detected a few smi= les. ‘If we are to move on, and break with traditional animosity, then now= is as good a time to start as any.’

      He ambled s= lowly around the table, noting faces, and searching for any display of emotion he could find. In this group, that was not easy.

      ‘Firs= t, gentlemen, I will state clearly that the banking group that I have … = inherited, along with K2, is Swiss, through and through. It is part of Switzerland, lo= yal to Switzerland, and will always act in the best interests of this country. = I do not follow Gunter’s philosophy, and I have already begun to make some sweeping changes. You, gentlemen, need not fear K2, nor our bank’s activities. I am here to join with you, and to help you any way I can, with= in the rough guidelines that I have set myself.’

A face turned upwards. ‘And w= hat are those?’

Beesely bent towards the man. ̵= 6;To make it up as I go along!’ he whispered, causing many frowns and some smirks. He straightened and continued circling the group.

‘In the past, you have lost o= ut when our bank has used information gathered by K2. But I am sure, gentlemen, that there have been times when you have come across information that may h= ave been useful to us, and probably to each other, which you did not disclose.’ He could see by their glances that he was correct. ‘I know you have your secret meetings once a month, but I doubt very much that= you contact each other daily when you get bits of stock trading intelligence landing on your desks.’

Drinks were placed onto the table, causing a natural break in proceedings, followed by the requested food. At first the delegates did little other than sip water, so Beesely helped hims= elf to cake and tea, Otto following his example.

‘Gentlemen, I am not saying a= nother word until you relax and take some food and drink,’ Beesely loudly stated. ‘At the very least, if tonight is a complete failure, I will = have sampled some more of your excellent local delicacies.’ He munched away ostentatiously.

Encouraged now by Beesely’s example, the assembled delegates started to help themselves to nibbles, pou= ring tea and coffee, as Beesely had hoped for. All except for the elderly man at= the head of the table, who continued to simply sip his water.=

After a minute, Beesely placed down= his cup and continued to pace. ‘So, gentlemen, in an ideal world, what do= you desire me to do?’

      All eyes tu= rned to the head of the table. Still sipping his water, the headman motioned to = the subordinate on his left to answer.

 ‘We want … we would like … better access to information gathered by your agents.’

Beesely had been peering out of the window at nothing in particular. Now he turned his head. ‘Why?’= He waited.

The spokesman’s brow knitted.= He glanced at the elderly leader. ‘So that we may all benefit.’

‘Do we all pay towards= K2 agent training, or their salaries?’ Beesely asked, still looking out = of the window with his hands in his pockets; in Swiss terms, deliberately insulting body language.

‘No,’ came the uncertain reply.

Another man turned his head towards Beesely. ‘Without the approval of the Swiss Government, K2 would not exist or operate.’

‘Did you say that to Gunter?&= #8217; Beesely asked without turning around.

Otto hid a smile. No response came = back to the question.

‘We had no effective working relationship with Gunter,’ the same man admitted a few seconds later.=

‘So no then, you di= d not say that to Gunter.’ Beesely turned. ‘Perhaps you think I am weak?’ The spokesman turned toward the group leader. Beesely added, a= fter a long pause, ‘Or perhaps you think that I am someone you can do busi= ness with. Negotiate with?’

‘Yes,’ the man answered= with a forced smile.

‘Good, because if you did thi= nk I was weak there would have to be a demonstration.’

That got their attention. Even the = old man at the head of the table suddenly registered a pulse and put down his water.

‘You see, gentlemen, I have b= een working very closely with British Intelligence and the CIA for almost fifty years. I was a senior manager in British Secret Service for decades; I help= ed train your P-26 unit a long time ago.’ Many men exchanged surprised looks. ‘Even without K2 I could make my enemies disappear. With my pedigree of contacts, and K2’s resources, just think what I could do.’ He circled the table again.

The delegates shifted uneasily in t= heir seats.

‘I’m surprised none of = you have suggested that the Swiss Government would come to your aid.’ They offered no response. Beesely halted his pacing. ‘So, to repeat myself, what - in an ideal world - would you gentlemen like me to do?’

The initial spokesman said, ‘= We want … we desire … closer co-operation with your group. You are= the only large banking group that is not part of this society.’

Beesely mulled over the word. So= ciety: ancient, secret, steeped in tradition, akin to the Freemasons. It was not an organization, body, company or group. A society.

‘Yes.’ He stared out of= the window again.

Their spokesman queried, ‘Yes= ... to what?’

Beesely turned and walked slowly to= wards the society’s leader. ‘Yes, I will work with you and join this organization.’

Now their leader actually raised hi= s head an inch, his expression lightening.

‘But there are conditions, an= d I have some suggestions.’ Beesely pulled out the chair that had been originally reserved for him, placing it next to their leader at the head of= the table, another cultural insult. He sat, and they glanced at each other.

‘I would suggest, gentlemen,&= #8217; he began, addressing everyone except their leader, ‘that it would be difficult and impractical for us to send you stock intelligence data on a day-by-day basis. Sometimes, this information needs to be acted upon quickl= y. There is also the risk that sending out such information to many people may invite accidental disclosure. So I would suggest this: we create a fund, a common pool of money that is under the direct control of our banking group,= and that it is used for all those transactions that are secret, highly profitab= le, and yet risky in their nature. We will pick up the cost of running such a f= und, and we will take twenty-five percent less of the profits that may result fr= om that fund’s activities than you would.’

That woke them up. Even the old man shifted in his seat.

Beesely helped himself to sparkling mineral water and some nibbles. ‘So, are we done here?’ He stood and faced the leader.

The old man slowly rose to his feet. ‘You mentioned conditions. This thing is good for us. So, what … conditions?’ His words came slow and heavily accented, his pronunciat= ion difficult to understand.

‘That’s easy. I believe= that there is no point in being rich and powerful unless you can enjoy what you have. At the next scheduled meeting I will arrange for four of the world’s top chefs to prepare a meal for us. Thereafter, at each meeti= ng, your members will rotate that responsibility and prepare for us the world’s finest food to sample during our discussions. If that is not = done to my satisfaction, I will not be attending.’

The old man raised his eyebrows.

Beesely walked around to Otto, then turned and addressed the group. ‘Draw up some plans, put down some id= eas, and kindly send them to Otto. I am sure that we can come to a good working arrangement. And some gifts for each other might be nice. At our next meeti= ng I would like some of Switzerland’s finest hand-made trout and salmon flies.’

 

Otto hid a grin as long as he could.

‘Enjoy that?’ Beesely a= sked as they drove back.

Otto shook his head. ‘I could= not believe you asked them for this fund. If they agree to this fund, and it is= a good size, we will have bank managers of the world asking us for favours.’

Beesely offered Otto a confident sm= ile. ‘We’ll use it for our means, like a big stick. Put pressure on those who deserve it.’

‘Le fox?’ Otto began. ‘You are an entire field of foxes, wearing glasses. In any language!’

‘A compliment if ever I heard one.’

 


 

Two wrongs do make a right

 

1

=  

The following morning, the Nigerian International Development Minister walked i= nto a group bank branch in Zurich, now being accompanied by Otto. The bank̵= 7;s manager and staff recognised Otto immediately, surprised that he now accompanied a client. Otto motioned the Minister towards a cashier at a des= k as the branch’s manager approached.

      The manager smiled, bowed his head, and greeted Otto with a handshake before glancing at the African Minister, the Minister tall and imposing in his colourful traditional robes. ‘Is everything in order?’ he whispered.=

      Otto whispe= red, ‘The Nigerian Minister, he seems to think he will be cheated if not accompanied by a senior official.’ The manager rolled his eyes, only visible to Otto, Otto whispering, ‘So far today he has asked for girls and cocaine.’

      Again the m= anager rolled his eyes. ‘The client always comes first,’ rolled off his tongue, a well-practised cliché.

      After check= ing the Minister’s ID, and receiving his numbered account details, the cashier transferred the balance of $10m directly to UNICEF, money that had = been previously appropriated for the Minister and his family to retire on, generously supplied by the taxpayers of Europe. Finally the Minister stood, adjusting his robes.

      ‘Is everything in order, sir?’ the manager asked, smiling warmly.

      ‘With= the help of God, all will be well,’ the Minister boomed, towering over the two Swiss.

      The manager= hid a frown as best as he could, said goodbye to Otto, then stood for a moment watching his visitors leave.

=       In the car, Otto turned to the ‘Minister’. ‘It was a good accent.’

      ‘Than= ks mate, learnt that from my grandfather,’ came back in a London accent.=

      Otto handed= over a wad of money. ‘You’ll be driven to Paris. After that, stay in touch.’

      ‘No problem, Boss. I’ll get the train back up to London.’

      As they dro= ve through Zurich, the real Minister, plus his wife, sister, mother, mother-in= -law and brother were starting to decompose, buried six feet under an isolated f= ield just across the French border. The chemicals they had been buried with would accelerate the process and leave few identifiable remains. Their stolen fun= ds would now go where they were intended.

      At first Be= esely had just planned to liberate the funds, perhaps have the Nigerians deported= or accused of some crime, but when he had discovered that they were in a Cannes hotel, a thousand pounds a night hotel, eating caviar and driving Rolls Roy= ce cars - all with money earmarked for starving Africans, he had lost his temp= er.

      Along with = their stolen $10m, he added another $10m of his own.

 

* * *

 

Johno walked through the mist, kicking the swirls with his foot and studying the strange patterns. Then he was there, = The Pearly Gates.

  =     Suddenly there appeared a man at a table, a sofa and some drinks. ‘Your name?’ the man asked. Now he had wings.

  =     ‘Johno.’ He lit up.

  =     ‘No smoking in here.’

  =     ‘Really? Bugger. Can I smoke out here?’

  =     The man nodded. ‘Yes, you’re outside.

  =     ‘Outside of what?’

  =     ‘Did you not go to church, study the Bible?’

  =     ‘Not really.’

  =     ‘Christened?’

  =     ‘Dunno.’ A beer appeared. Johno sat, took a drag and tried the beer. ‘Ah ... that’s good.’

  =     ‘Guests outside may do as they please. But what you do is observed.’

  =     ‘Got any girls?’ A girl in a bikini appeared. She sat next to him. ‘Yeah, baby.’

  =     The man with wings began, ‘When you are ready, you may present yourself f= or judgement.’

  =     ‘Oh.’ Johno gave it some thought. ‘How long do I get to prepare?’

  =     ‘Time has no meaning here, you may take as long as you like.’

  =     ‘Won’t be holding anyone else up, will I?’

T= he man with wings frowned very hard then shook his head. ‘Holding anyone else up?’

  =     ‘In the queue behind me.’

  =     ‘No.’

  =     ‘Oh ... right. Well, if you don’t mind, mate, could you - you know - piss= off for a few hours.’

  =     The man disappeared. The girl was shaking him by the shoulders. ‘Johno! Johno!’

  =     He opened his eyes. ‘Marge’, his favourite ‘lady-friend̵= 7; leant over him.

&= #8216;Shopping! You said we’d go shopping. Come on, get up.’<= /p>

 

* * *

 

Guido Pepi placed down the phone and surveyed the five men ranged in front of his desk. ‘Interesting.’

      ‘Some= thing?’

      ‘This= man Beesely has taken The International Bank of Zurich back into the Swi= ss bank society.’

=       ‘The Swiss Government has planned this,’ another man complained. ‘Fi= rst the inheritance goes to a British Intelligence officer, then they get SAS i= nstructors, now they re-join the bank society. And this man Otto has doubled the number= of guards in six months!’’

      ‘Yes,= ’ Pepi let out. ‘They are building up their defences, and consolidating= .’

      ‘Why now?’ a man asked. ‘They sat quietly by for decades.’

      ‘A go= od question,’ Pepi stated. ‘And I would guess that, when we find t= he answer, we won’t like it.’

      ‘The = bomb is still in place?’ a man asked.

      Pepi faced = him and nodded. ‘Soon, gentlemen. Soon.’

 

* * *

 

The chairman of The Lodge smiled widely and stood up, report in hand. ‘By= God, he’s done it!’

      ‘Done what?’ a man asked, one of just four men at the table.

      ‘Sweet Jesus!’ the chairman added.

      The men gla= nced at each other, waiting for the revelation.

      The chairman placed his hands on the table and rested his weight on them. ‘You know that secret Swiss banking group, the one we’ve been trying to get ins= ide for sixty years. Well, Beesely just joined them.’ He detected some shocked looks. ‘Not only that, it looks as if he’s persuaded th= em to let him trade their combined funds.’

      Henry drumm= ed his fingers on the desk, thinking hard.

 

2

=  

That afternoon, Johno sat on a chair in a field, a strong blindfold over his eye= s, an air-pistol in his hand. He listened intently.

      Twenty yards away, agents were watching with interest as the chosen man inched along, tr= ying to sneak up on Johno without getting shot. Money changed hands, bets laid a= nd payoffs made. Jane now sat on a small mound at the edge of the field, with = her friend Sarah from the kitchen, who was also English. They were having a pic= nic whilst observing Johno’s training exercise.

      Franz, a gu= ard, was doing well so far, the previous three guards nursing bruised body parts, having been hit by the air-pistol. Franz took a slow and measured step.

      Johno liste= ned intently, raising the pistol. Franz grinned, Johno’s aim a good thirty degrees off. Johno fired with a ‘click’, no scream caused by a = hit. ‘Bollocks!’

He reloaded, Franz taking the oppor= tunity to take two large strides before halting. Johno again listened intently, turning his head like a ship’s sonar. Franz stepped on a snail with a= crunch. Johno aimed and fired, catching Franz in the knee, a scream let out. Johno ripped off the blindfold as a cheer came from the onlookers, Franz within s= ix yards, the closest so far. Money reluctantly changed hands.

‘Best so far, mate. Next!R= 17;

 

Jane offered Sarah some salad.

‘You don’t eat much,= 217; Sarah noted.

      Jane glance= d up at her briefly from behind a large pair of sunglasses. ‘I’ve ne= ver eaten much,’ she quietly admitted.

      ‘Ever= been married?’ Sarah delicately probed. She knew very little about Jane, t= heir conversations had always tended to be about anything other than private or personal matters.

      Jane coughe= d out a small laugh. ‘No.’

      ‘Neve= r met the right one?’ Sarah delicately broached.

      Jane admitt= ed, ‘Never met any … one.’

      ‘Bad = luck with guys?’ Sarah ventured sympathetically.

      ‘No l= uck. I never bothered with any man.’

      ‘What= ... ever?’

      Jane shook = her head. ‘I had an illness when I was thirteen...’ She shrugged.

      ‘God, I’m so ... sorry.’

      ‘Not = your fault,’ Jane offered. ‘Just how it is, that’s all.’=

      Sarah studi= ed the large black pools that were Jane’s sunglass eyes. She sighed. ‘I had an abortion when I was sixteen, before I came over here.’

      ‘Did = your parents know?’ Jane asked.

      ‘My m= um did, she helped arrange it. It was at the time when she was thinking of leaving = my dad, so after I was better we came here.’

      ‘Do y= ou see him?’

      ‘My f= ather? Sometimes, he’s not so bad now, better than he was. He calls sometime= s, cards at Christmas, you know.’

      ‘My step-dad was murdered,’ Jane revealed.

      ‘God!= ’

      ‘When= I was twelve. They never caught who did it.’ She forced a nervous laugh. ‘Pity, I wanted to thank whoever it was.’

      Sarah was shocked. Squinting in the bright sunlight, she probed, ‘Not a great d= ad then?’

      Jane glance= d at her briefly before turning back to the field’s activities. ‘The worst.’

      ‘How = long have you worked for Mister Beesely?’

      ‘Almo= st twenty years,’ Jane said, brightening. ‘My mum was left a house= in London, so we moved there when I was eighteen. I went to college for a whil= e, then she got a job for the Ministry of Defence; I did part time work there. Beesely needed a secretary when he was in the country, so a friend of my mum’s got me an interview. I got the job because that guy – the= friend of Beesely’s - knew mum. Well, that’s what I thought at the time.’

      ‘What= do you mean?’ Sarah asked as she peeled a boiled egg.<= /p>

      ‘Mist= er Beesely arranged for me to work for him, special like. Fixed it all up.R= 17;

      ‘Beca= use he knew that guy?’

      ‘No, = because he’s my real dad,’ Jane quietly admitted.

      ‘What= ?’ Sarah gasped. ‘Mister Beesely is your father?’

      Jane nodded. ‘You aren’t supposed to know.’

      ‘I= 217;ll ... not tell anyone.’ Sarah considered it carefully. ‘So he had= you work for him, because he’s your biological father, and you never knew?’

      ‘No, = not till last week.’

      ‘Last week?’ Sarah asked in a strong whisper.

      Jane nodded. ‘He revealed it when Otto came over. Up ‘til then I just worked= for him, but always knew he was too nice to me. He always fixed everything like= I was his daughter, not like I worked for him.’

      ‘Why didn’t he tell you before?’

      ‘He d= idn’t want people to know in case they might come after me.’

      ‘Ah. = With his type of work that makes some sense. But other people like him, people i= n Military Intelligence, they must have normal families.’

      ‘Stuf= f that Beesely did was never normal; gone for months on end, always a lot of stran= ge looks and rumours. Police came for him twice. The one thing he isn’t… is like other people I saw in the MOD. My mum always sai= d he was into some odd stuff.’ She forced a quick, nervous laugh.

      ‘So y= ou worked for him all these years and never knew? Wow. Still, he looked after = you, stuck by you; that’s more than could be said for my dad. I never got = any money after we came here.’

      ‘Bees= ely always made sure I never had any problems. And Johno. He got arrested once;= he punched a man who stole my bag.’

      ‘Bees= ely?’

      ‘No, = Johno. He nearly killed the man.’

      ‘What happened?’

      ‘The = jury all heard about the Falklands War and the SAS and stuff. Ten minutes after = they ... you know, went to talk about it, they came back and said not guilty.= 217;

      ‘Luck= y. Did Johno not marry?’

=       Jane shot Sarah a look, visible even through the large sunglasses. ‘HeR= 17;s got more problems than me; he spent a year getting over being shot in Kosov= o. He’s afraid to show all them scars to girls, so he likes to go with prostitutes without taking his clothes off. He can’t spend the night = with a girl because of the nightmares, he has to be drunk to sleep soundly.̵= 7;

      ‘Don&= #8217;t go telling me too much,’ Sarah nervously suggested. ‘Get me into trouble.’

 

 


Earning your keep=

 

1

=  

= The Serbian delegation was due to land soon, on the small private airstrip at Z= ug. The Serbian Ambassador to Switzerland had already arrived, by helicopter, b= ut the man had been kept deliberately alone on the flight. It had been suggest= ed that the helicopter bring the Swiss Government as well, but Beesely had a p= lan.

      The Swiss Government contingent had arrived by car an hour ago for ‘talks befor= e talks’, Beesely having ordered the training camp cleared of most staff, the guards = to be smartly dressed and discreetly in the background. The Swiss Ministers we= re now being entertained by Beesely in the top floor restaurant, and the restaurant tables had been moved to create a ‘conference’ venue= so that everyone would be sat facing each other.

      Burke and h= is CIA team were hidden in a hut, Johno and the SAS crew huddled in another a few yards away. As were close to four hundred men dressed in camouflage clothing and wearing black ski masks. Four Black Hawk helicopters, of the US Rhine A= rmy Medical Corps, waited in a field two miles from the airport, the crew quick= ly changing clothes and slapping green and black water-based paint onto large red-cross signs.

      Otto stood waiting in the small airport lounge, politely talking about nothing much to= the Serbian Ambassador. It turned out the man’s grandfather was German.

 

Beesely’s phone rang, and he excused himself from the company of Ministers Blaum, Delgarcia and others. ‘Beesely here.’

      ‘Five minutes, sir.’

      ‘Thank you.’ Holding the phone at arms length, and looking over the rims of = his glasses, he pressed the red button followed by the big green button. Bringi= ng the phone to his ear again, he said, ‘All stations, five minutes. Go.’

 

Johno stepped out and blew his whistle. Three blasts.

 

Feeling his phone vibrating, Otto informed the Ambassador that his countrymen would= be landing in five minutes.

 

Black Hawk rotors started to turn. Crewmen put on black ski masks and attached ro= pes to the sides of the helicopters.

 

Burke pointed a finger at the door. Berets were donned, boots shined on the backs= of legs.

 

It was a perfect day, no clouds and little wind, as Otto stood waiting with the Serbian Ambassador. He held a hand over his eyes and squinted to the east as the Serbian delegate’s plane, a small Russian commuter aircraft ̵= 1; a three engine Yak 42, descended towards the runway. A red carpet had been la= id out for the visitors, backed by a row of four black Range Rovers, and an executive minibus that could hold ten passengers.

      The small j= et touched down smoothly, Otto pressing a button on his phone three times with= out anyone noticing. The plane slowed, not needing much runway, then taxied aro= und, marshalled for the last hundred yards by a ground controller dressed in bri= ght orange. All was going well, the sun beating down, a few flies buzzing about. Two ground-handlers waited with large wooden chocks for the aircraft’s wheels; they looked warm and uncomfortable inside their overalls and ear defenders.

  =     Then Otto considered that he and the Ambassador were stood a little too close to where the aircraft would halt and said as much, leading the man back a few steps. The door on this aircraft opened on the front left, Otto now watching with Swiss precision interest as the pilot lined up with the end of the red carpet. The aircraft slowed as it advanced towards them, its engines whinin= g, slight adjustments to speed and direction evident.

      The plane m= issed its mark and braked hard, its nose dipping. The red carpet now lay under the wing, crumpled and held down by the aircraft’s wheels, small black circles of oil appearing. The Ambassador turned to Otto, who quickly jumped= in with, ‘No problem, this happens all the time, difficult for the pilot= to judge up in the cockpit.’ The Ambassador forced a smile.

      The dignita= ries were formally greeted by Otto before being loaded into the Range Rovers, the final two men to exit the aircraft pointing and laughing at the red carpet. Otto tried to appear as if he had not seen them, pressing his phone four ti= mes as they boarded the vehicles.

Where the airfield track joined the= main road, pairs of dismounted motorcycle police in bright orange uniforms stood lined up, giving priority to the cavalcade. A mile along the road they near= ed the lake and, as a matter of strange coincidence, two ‘ribs’ - black inflatable dinghies - were speeding up the lake, six soldiers in each wearing black ski masks. They could not have been missed, the Foreign Minis= ter glancing at the Intelligence Chief. The dull drone of helicopters grew, soon unmistakable, the passengers glancing out and peering skywards.<= /span>

      Around the = next bend, the convoy drove parallel to a large field, four Black Hawks hovering with a roar. Ropes reached down to the ground some sixty feet below, soldie= rs rappelling down at speed, dropping into the prone position ready for simula= ted weapons firing.

      The Foreign Minister was concerned. ‘American! Delta Force?’

&nb= sp;     Otto pressed his phone five times, turning to the Ambassador, who had been watch= ing the display with great concern. ‘They are American medics, here for exercises; mountain rescue. They come every year.’<= /h4>

      ‘They= look like commandos.’

  =     ‘Really?’ Otto strained to see. ‘I must confess, I do not know the difference f= rom one uniform to another.’

      The Ambassa= dor seemed totally unconvinced.

      The convoy = passed through the woods, soon climbing towards the castle, Otto crossing his fing= ers and hoping that this day would end well. They finally turned off the main p= ublic road and into the camp, the gates now hosting four police motorcycles on ei= ther side, the convoy passing through without being stopped.

      The Foreign Minister studied the gate, and its security complement, as they passed thro= ugh. ‘This man Beesely takes his security seriously.’

      A squad of a hundred men in black uniforms and ski masks jogged down the side of the roa= d in tight formation, four abreast. On the opposite side of the road, a similar squad of men advanced. Alongside the road stood another hundred doing star = jumps, thankfully without their ski masks on this hot day, the guests taking it all in. At the next bend, a block of men were undergoing rifle drill.

      Opposite th= em stood Burke and his team in American uniforms; Green Berets. They were stoo= d in the road, the drivers having to slow and ease around them, Burke and his men shouting loud orders with distinct American accents.

      ‘Green Berets!’ The Intelligence Minister stated, noting the distinctive cap badges.

      In OttoR= 17;s lead vehicle, the Ambassador grew concerned. ‘You have quite the small army here. And more Americans?’

      ‘We h= ave the main training facility here for our counter-terrorism teams and hostage rescue teams,’ Otto informed the Ambassador. ‘The bank has many rich clients and, should they be held hostage for ransom, we may be tasked = with a rescue for them, almost anywhere in the world. We have teams in Belize in South America this week. The Americans offer us assistance in jungle medici= ne and what they call, let me see, combat medical first aid.’=

      ‘So, = more medical staff.’

=       Otto forced a quick, polite smile.

=       Further up the compound road, and now in sight of the castle, the convoy’s progress slowed, Johno and his gang now stood in the road. All were suitably attired in British camouflage clothing and SAS berets, sporting MP5 sub-mac= hine guns. The vehicles slowed to a crawl, all the drivers lowering their window= s.

Johno strolled up. ‘Good day, Mister Otto,’ he offered, checking the faces of each man in the vehic= le.

      ‘You = are British?’ the Ambassador politely enquired.

      ‘We&#= 8217;re not at liberty to say, sir.’ He walked to each vehicle in turn, talki= ng to each driver and checking all the faces, the convoy finally waved on.

=       ‘Serv= ing British SAS,’ the Intelligence Minister noted.

=       The Ambassador turned to Otto, tipping his head. ‘More ... medical staff?’

      ‘No, = they are the private security of Herr Beesely. They are British SAS. They also t= each at the counter-terrorism school.’

 

2

=  

Peering down through the restaurant windows, Beesely now noticed the first vehicle = of the convoy come to a halt in front of the drawbridge, just a sprinkling of guards to greet them. ‘Our guests have arrived,’ he announced, turning on his heel. ‘They should be up in just a minute or two.̵= 7;

 

Otto and the Ambassador stood waiting next to their vehicle, joined a minute lat= er by the rest of the Serbian delegation.

‘Your headquarters … is= a castle?’ the Intelligence Chief asked with a cheeky grin.<= /span>

      ‘No, = these are the guest quarters and meeting rooms. Just for show,’ Otto inform= ed them. He stamped his left foot. ‘Our headquarters are six hundred met= res under our feet, stretching out into the lake for one kilometre.’=

      The visitors stopped dead, looking for any signs that Otto might be joking.

=       Otto explained, ‘It was an old copper mine, from the year 1890, I believe.= It was converted to a nuclear bomb shelter in 1962, thereafter turned it into a facility. It is more bomb proof than Cheyenne Mountain according to the American engineers who have looked at it.’ He wished now that he had a secret camera, wondering what the resolution of the cameras on the drawbrid= ge might be like. The expressions on their faces were quite extraordinary, he considered.

      Female K2 administrative staff, now dressed in traditional Swiss costumes – lon= g grey skirts, white blouses with black waistcoats - lined the drawbridge and ushe= red the men inside through the courtyard, through the Great Hall and to the lob= by area. Four at a time were sent up in the lift, the young lift attendant now replaced by a guard in a suit. Beesely and the Swiss delegation warmly gree= ted all of the Serbians in turn, ordering them drinks.

      After close= to ten minutes of greetings - and idle chat standing up, Beesely began nudging delegates towards their allotted chairs. Each delegate’s position on = the table had been marked with a formal nametag, which included a full job titl= e: Minister, Ambassador, etc. The munitions exporter did not quite understand = his title, his tag replaced by Johno: ‘Dodgy Weapons Dealer’. =

When everyone had finally seated themselves, Beesely walked around to the top of the table, Otto sitting to = his immediate right. Still standing, Beesely called, ‘Gentlemen.’ T= he room fell silent. ‘Gentlemen, I would like to start by making it clear that my seat here, at the top of the table, does not mean that I am in char= ge of this meeting.’ With that he sat and poured himself some water, adjusting his paper and pen.

      ‘May I welcome you all here to Schloss Diane, a name given to this fine old castle= by its late owner. As you have probably gathered, this castle is just symbolic= , a hotel with rooms and restaurants. My headquarters are ... elsewhere. Castles were traditionally seen as imposing, and this one is in no way intended to intimidate anyone.’

      The Intelli= gence Chief leant forwards. ‘And what about the military camp outside? Is t= hat not meant to intimidate anyone?’

      ‘Cert= ainly not. And may I add that it is not a military camp, we are a civilian organization with some ties to the Swiss military and police.’

      ‘And = what ties might those be?’ the Intelligence Chief probed.

      Before Bees= ely could comment, the Swiss Interior Minister, Blaum, answered, ‘We are a small nation, with limited resources, so the counter-terrorism and hostage rescue teams run by the International Bank of Zurich are lent to us, should= we need them.’

      ‘And = what about foreign military involvement?’ the same man added.

      The Minister Blaum frowned his surprise. ‘What do you mean?’

      ‘We s= aw American and British soldiers outside, American helicopters!’

Minister Blaum explained, ‘Th= ere are a few American medical helicopters here with their medical staff. They = come with German and French teams for medical exercises in the mountains.’=

      The dull dr= one of rotor blades quickly grew louder.

      The Intelli= gence Chief stood up, a false smile spread from ear to ear. ‘Perhaps these = are the American medical helicopters now?’

      Several of = the Serbians joined him at the window, along with all the Swiss Government representatives, leaving Beesely sipping his water and glancing at Otto from under his eyebrows. Four Black Hawks flew South West down the lake, no more than a hundred metres from that particular window, large red crosses on whi= te backgrounds glistening in the sun. Medics with red-cross tunics sat in the doorways, waving.

      ‘Yes,= that is them,’ Minister Blaum pointed out as he turned and sat back down.<= o:p>

      The Serbian= s did not look pleased, more annoyed, with a hint of confusion thrown in. After all, they could not have been completely sure of what they saw earlie= r.

=       ‘Gentlemen,’ Beesely called, getting them to settle again.

      ‘What= about the British and American foot soldiers we saw?’ the Intelligence Chief pressed, pointing a finger angrily in a direction that he obviously thought= led to the compound, not the toilets he was actually targeting.

      Beesely gla= nced at the toilets with a puzzled expression, wondering who might be inside the= m. The Swiss Interior Minister looked as if he was about to field this questio= n as well. ‘May I?’ Beesely cut in with, Minister Blaum easing back. ‘Gentlemen, we have both British and American former soldiers here, advising on tropical medicines, and some British counter-terrorism experts. They are private contractors, not sanctioned by their various governments.’

      ‘That= I can confirm,’ Minister Blaum offered.

      His Serbian counterpart did not look convinced.

      Beesely cle= ared his throat. ‘Gentlemen, if I may.’ It finally fell quiet. ̵= 6;I have requested your presence here today, with the kind assistance and co-operation of the Swiss Government, in the hope that we can resolve some issues that are of importance to us all. First, Herr Gunter is dead. This banking group and its associated companies are under new management, I am n= ow the head of the group. And may I be emphatic in stating that I do things qu= ite differently to Herr Gunter, not that I ever met him.’

      ‘You = never met your step-brother?’ The Serbian Ambassador puzzled.

      Beesely hel= d up a finger. ‘Brother-in-law. And no, I never met him.’

      ‘Your takeover here seems very … quick and seamless,’ their Foreign Minister pointedly remarked.

      ‘I ha= ve good staff. The place runs just fine without me.’

      The Intelli= gence Chief folded his arms. ‘And also strange that you are connected to the British Secret Service.’

      ‘Conn= ected? Why, my dear chap, I was a senior official with British Intelligence for fo= rty years.’

      With that t= he Intelligence Chief unfolded his arms. ‘So this large Swiss group with direct links to the Swiss Government is now run by anti-Serbian British Intelligence!’

      Minister Bl= aum objected, so too his colleagues, the Serbian Ambassador trying to calm his countrymen.

Chaos ruled for almost a minute, Be= esely glancing at his watch. He finally tapped the table with his glass. ‘Gentlemen, please.’ He waited. ‘My Serb friends, you are doing the good people in this banking group a great disservice. They are Sw= iss, and their loyalty is to Switzerland and its independence. Nothing I may do = is going to change that, and you would be foolish to think that I could simply walk into the bank and try and make its staff sit up and follow orders from London. They would not, they are not, nor will they ever be required to. An= d if we keep to this antagonistic approach we will be here all day and achieve nothing.’

      ‘Then= state what you want!’ the Serb delegate labelled as ‘Dodgy Weapons Dealer’ barked. His words might have been louder if he had noticed the insult.

      Beesely too= k a breath and a sip of water. ‘What I would like, gentlemen, is firstly = to apologise for the way in which the late Herr Gunter … treated = some of your countrymen.’ He waited for it to sink in. ‘Furthermore,= I wish to mend relationships, both for the sake of Swiss neutrality, and for = the sake of this banking group.’

      The Serbians glanced around at each other.

      Finally, th= eir Ambassador delicately broached, ‘Serbian funds, of private companies, appear to have … disappeared from several Swiss banks, including this bank.’

      Minister Bl= aum straightened, clearly horrified. ‘We have received no such formal complaint!’

      Otto leant forwards. ‘They were accounts used by criminals, also by Serbian Intelligence and some pro-Serbian political groups in Europe which have been outlawed. Herr Gunter interfered with them. Since the funds could not have = been explained to a Serbian court, there was no challenge to them.’

      Minister Bl= aum nodded his understanding and sat back.

      Beesely rai= sed a hand to silence them, then raised his phone. ‘Beesely here. Unlock all the frozen Serbian accounts. Yes, immediately.’ He put the phone away. ‘Gentlemen, consider that a first step. And, by the way, we will be paying interest on that money at the appropriate rate.’

      The Serbian= s did indeed look surprised.

      ‘Movi= ng along, gentlemen, I would like to point out … that we have concrete p= roof of illegal actions by most of the persons relating to those bank accounts; = photographs, fingerprints, video taped conversations, signed confessions and witnesses. Should we send that to the world’s press then you, gentlemen, would h= ave a problem. You would even have a problem with your own press and courts.

      ‘But = I am not going to do that; it would serve no useful purpose other than to harm o= ur new friends interests. Now, the way in which Herr Gunter dealt with the pro= blem was to compound one criminal act with another, which is why we are here; to bring an end to it.’

      ‘You = are serious?’ their Intelligence Chief challenged.

      ‘Yes,= my friend, I am serious. If you are prepared to unwind the problem from your s= ide, then we are more than happy to do it from our side. That is not a sign of weakness on either side, we simply find it prudent to concentrate on our business interests - those that make us money - and not on conflict. Furthermore, we will enter into negotiations to offer venture capital to Serbian projects that may benefit your people. We are also interested in acquiring land in Serbia and developing business partnerships.’<= /o:p>

      Ten minutes= later the Serbians, with their heads spinning, stood up and began talking amongst themselves in small groups, Otto and Beesely making sure everyone had way t= oo much food, and, more importantly, way too much drink.

 

Otto approached Beesely, and led him subtly away from the crowd. Suitably out of earshot, he said, ‘I confess that I do not understand your strategy here.’

      Beesely smi= led at his offspring, nodding, then gazed out of the window. ‘You remember t= he story of the shoe salesman?’

      ‘Yes,= he died in front of you.’

      ‘And imparted some wisdom that has been with me for quite some time. You see, he= did not just talk about shoe sales, or the psychology of people and their footw= ear buying habits; he also discussed many other things as he sat there dying. O= ne was how to deal with bullies and enemies, a useful topic in my chosen caree= r.

      ‘He t= old me that, when the need arose to make friends with an enemy or a bully, make su= re that you carry a big stick - and that your stick is bigger than theirs. Then, on= ce you have either beaten them down, or shown that you could, offer them a truce.’

      Otto follow= ed Beesely’s gaze out through the window. ‘Gunter would have just tried to kill them.’

=       Beesely took a breath and sighed. ‘And lost the opportunity for us to crack o= pen Serb Intelligence and see what these bastards are really up to.’ He f= aced Otto with a smile.

      ‘Le Fox,’ Otto whispered. ‘Your new unofficial title.’

 

3

=  

Negotiations became a friendly chat; people walked around, peered out of the windows, sampled the food, huddled in groups or sat with bits of paper and made note= s.

      An hour aft= er the meeting started Beesely got his signal, the first joke cracked by a Serbian. Easing away from the warm bodies, he raised his phone. ‘Mission complete.’

 

* * *

 

Johno had been at the far end of the camp, sat in a hut with Burke and his men, p= lus the ex-SAS ‘old dogs’.

      ‘Shou= ld have seen the look on their faces when I checked their vehicles,’ Joh= no laughed, can of beer in his hand.

      ‘What= ’s he got planned?’ Burke asked, sipping a beer.

      ‘Goin= g to snuggle up to the Serbs, open a bank branch over there. Today he’s go= ing to give them everything they want.’

      ‘He is?’ Burke queried, his eyes widening.

      ‘We&#= 8217;re going to open up hotels over there, buy shares in banks and travel agencies= and TV and the media, all using Swiss neutrality so that no fucker will suspect anything. We’ll have first hand intel’ on a large chunk of thei= r country; financial transactions, movements on planes, hotels, you name it.’

      Burke smile= d and nodded. ‘Told me he was going to derail these talks.’

      Johno grinn= ed. ‘Got you here, didn’t he? Listen, mate, learn something now: wh= at he says, and what he does, are two different things. And never play poker or chess with Beesely, he’ll clean you out every time. Just when you fig= ure you know what he’s up to, that’s the time to throw your notes o= ut the window and start again. He’s always three steps ahead of everyone.’

      Johno’= ;s phone chirped. ‘Yeah?’ He stood and tucked away the phone, grab= bing his whistle and winking at Burke as he headed for the door, giving four loud blasts when outside.

      Burke stood= and faced his team. ‘Let’s roll, boys. Or should I say ...  pawns.’

      Hundreds of= men began to run to a side entrance of the camp, through dense woods and away f= rom the lake, following a precisely engineered plan of action. White and orange police BMW motorcycles sped off. In little under five minutes the camp was cleared, just a handful of guards left on the gates, smartly dressed and wi= th no weapons visible.

      A promise o= f a further meeting had been made and agreed to by all sides, to be held in Ber= n in a month’s time. Following that, a Swiss delegation would fly to Serbia and the new Serbian President would be involved. Their Ambassador happily signed a ‘statement of intent’ with his Swiss counterpart and accepted a lift back to Bern, taking the scenic route. The remaining Serbs were driven back to the airfield through the empty camp.

=       ‘He is making a point, I think,’ the Serb Foreign Minister began as they drove off. ‘That he has the firepower if he needs to use it. And he h= as the friends in England and America if he needs them.’

      ‘Do y= ou trust him?’ the Intelligence Chief asked.

      ‘Yes.= I think he is more interested in money than anything political. Also, I think that the Swiss Government has put pressure on him to resolve this. He needs= to find a solution, so do we.’

      The Intelli= gence Chief nodded, taking in the beautiful scenery.

 

* * *

 

The Serbian spy adjusted his telescope with renewed interest, since the time was drawing near. But unknown to him, his recently discarded semen lay in a laboratory undergoing DNA checks. A bottle with his fingerprints on now sat covered in= a fine black powder in a plastic bag, carefully labelled on a laboratory shel= f. The contents of his rubbish bag were neatly laid out across a large white t= able and being sifted through thoroughly.

      He sat back= down, grabbing his half-empty packet of crisps, not realising that through a crac= k in the curtains an eye watched. He lowered his trousers, the game show soon starting.

=  

4

=  

An hour later, Otto and Beesely descended to the basement. All of the ‘commandos’ were present; Burke and three of his men, Johno and= the three ‘old dogs’.

      Burke stepp= ed up as Beesely accepted a half drunk bottle of beer off Johno. ‘All your … objectives achieved?’ he unhappily enquired.

      ‘An excellent start,’ Beesely commended. ‘And all you had to= do was stand there and look pretty.’ Burke’s men disagreed with th= at appraisal, a few rude words flittering around.

      ‘Don&= #8217;t forget the choppers!’ Burke complained.

      ‘Neve= r.’ Beesely held his arm. ‘Give my thanks to the Rhine Army Commander and= ... your kind government.’

      ‘No problem, looking forward to some first hand intel’ on the Serbs. My g= ood buddy the European Chief is gunna be well pissed off at me.’

      Beesely rai= sed his eyebrows. ‘Do you care?’

      ‘Hell= no.’

      ‘Once you’ve changed from your fatigues and scrubbed up, let’s have a bite to eat around 7pm, and we can talk shop.’

      Burke nodde= d, re-joining the party.

      Beesely personally thanked everyone in turn, pressing the flesh and leaving a firm imprint on them all. Finally, he turned and addressed the room. ‘If y= ou don’t mind chaps, I’m rather tired after today’s fun and games. Not as young as I was.’

      Johno walked Beesely to the lift, Otto holding the door.

      At the lift, Beesely turned to Johno. ‘Tomorrow, if you could find some time to ta= ke Jane into town – a little shopping, some lunch, drive through the hil= ls?’

      ‘OK, Boss,’ Johno quickly answered, already turning back to the celebratio= ns and leaving Beesely unconvinced of the sincerity of the statement.

 

* * *

 

Guido Pepi read a detailed report with a studious frown as he sat alone in his st= udy. His twenty-six year old daughter, Maria, wandered in. She glanced at the report, ran a hand through his hair and left him alone, removing a dirty cu= p. Pepi had hardly noticed, his attention focused, only glancing up after she = had left.

=       Ten minutes later he placed down the report, lifting a cold coffee before he noticed the drink’s temperature, his right hand man stepping in after= a knock.

      ‘Just= got back, sir.’

      ‘Obvi= ously,’ Pepi lightly commented.

      ‘That= the K2 report?’ his assistant enquired, stood at the side of the desk.

      Pepi nodded= very slowly as he stared down the length of his study. ‘Yes,’ he sig= hed. ‘And quite … strange. A former British Intelligence officer, who appears to have inherited all of Gunter’s money, makes an big effort = in a show of force to the Serbs, then gives them everything they could want.R= 17;

      ‘That= does seem strange, sir.’

      Pepi looked= up. ‘I’d almost believe that this man did not inherit the money, th= at he is … an actor, working for the Swiss Government, or the Bank Society.’

      ‘He d= oes not seem to be acting like someone who had inherited the money.’=

      ‘When= it comes to K2, we should know better than to… apply normal logic.’= ;

      ‘Our = people inside have noticed nothing strange, sir.’

      Pepi contin= ued to stare down the length of the room. ‘Apart from the fact that this = 230; this very rich old man appeases those who might be his enemies. Why? Why di= d he do it? And why the show of force first? And why is he not sat on a beach somewhere?’

      ‘As y= ou said, sir, an actor. Or at least in league with the Swiss Government.’= ;

      ‘All = of our people inside say otherwise, especially inside the Bank Society.’ He heaved a big sigh, adopting a puzzled expression. ‘So far I cannot pi= ece this puzzle together. Nothing seems to fit.’

      ‘The = bomb, sir.’

      ‘Yes.= That should show us what is really going on.’

 

* * *

 

With a broad smile, the chairman of The Lodge read the report as the assembled g= roup waited. He finally looked up. ‘Beesely just used the Swiss bank lever= age at his disposal to open up Serb Intelligence. He even got an invitation to visit them.’

      A man eased forwards. ‘That CIA section chief, Burke, was kinda surprised that he= got approval for the helicopters. We need to watch him.’

      The chairman nodded, chewing on his unlit cigar. ‘Now Beesely knows that we’= re on the clock; no-way he could have got those choppers otherwise. He knows, = we know, nobody mentions it. Just like being married and cheating – both sides know, but nobody says anything.’


The end of the beginning=

=  

1

=  

Johno was still in bed and snoring when Beesely had taken Jane shopping in the sm= all town of Zug. Now, Beesely and Jane walked knee deep through a huge field of yellow flowers, just a few miles from the castle. The field stretched down = to a river, a few wooden houses dotted along its banks, a sturdy wooden bridge spanning its brisk flow.

      Jane added = to the handful of flowers that she had already collected, looking a little odd in = the over-sized sunglasses she had borrowed. Keeping her warm was a thick polo-n= eck jumper inside a padded jacket.

      ‘Is t= hat the river … that the lake flows into?’ she asked.

      Beesely gla= nced up at the bodyguards, the men fifty yards back towards the road. ‘Wha= t? Yes, bottom end of the lake just around that small hill I believe.’

      ‘So w= hy don’t they dam it and use ... that hydro –’

      ‘Hydr= oelectricity? They do, more than five hundred of them around Switzerland.’

      ‘The summers here are good.’

      ‘Well, we’ve had a good week luckily, but you wouldn’t want to be here= in the winter. Very chilly.’ He could see that she was struggling with t= hat thought. He added, ‘Not that we would be here in the winter. Beach ho= use in the Bahamas I’m thinking, large villa with a private beach.’=

      They slowly inched down the slope.

‘Oh. So we won’t be liv= ing here that much then?’

      ‘Good= God no, just need to get things sorted, then we can travel a bit; a week here, = a week somewhere warm. Otto can run this place like clockwork. Like a precision Sw= iss clock.’

      ‘When= do you think we’ll leave then?’

      ‘Oh, another week of sorting stuff here. I have a few other offices to visit, so= me around Europe. You can wait for me at the old house if you like - not sure I trust what those builders are doing. Yes, why don’t you pop back tomo= rrow and get me a progress report?’

      She gave it= some thought. ‘I’d be by myself, what with you and Johno here.’= ;

      ‘You&= #8217;ve been by yourself many times before when we were away. Besides, haven’t you made a new friend here?’

      She half tu= rned her head. ‘Sarah. Her mum was English, from Cornwall. Speaks God knows how many languages. She’s the assistant to the Guest Manager, Mr. Freezer.’

      ‘Frie= serling. Fry-zer-ling,’ he corrected.

      ‘I kn= ow, but we call him Freezer. Bit of a robot.’

      ‘Arou= nd here, my dear, that would be taken as the highest of compliments.’ She laughed, Beesely offering, ‘I’ll assign her to you, she’s probably missing the UK.’

      ‘She = hasn’t been back for two years.’

      ‘Well, there you go, she would probably jump at the chance.’

      ‘What= about Mr. Freezer?’

      ‘I= 217;ll have a word with his boss.’

      They stoppe= d to inspect a cluster of bright blue flowers.

      ‘Who&= #8217;s his boss, then?’ Jane enquired.

  =     ‘Old man Beesely. Apparently.’

=       They walked on, admiring the view. She ventured, ‘I think Johno has been ringing some famous American glamour model on the fancy phone. I heard him.’

      Beesely smi= led. ‘I’ll keep an eye on him. Still, it makes a change from the Alzheimer’s Society.’ His phone rang. ‘Beesely.’

      ‘It is Otto. We have a small security problem.’

      ‘Can = it wait thirty minutes?’

      ‘Yes,= of course.’

 

 

2

=  

As Jane walked into the courtyard, Otto walked out, greeting her warmly and exchanging a few words, complimenting her on the flowers she had collected.=

‘We have a small problem,R= 17; Otto repeated as he reached Beesely.

      Beesely led= him towards the lawn overlooking the lake. ‘Go on.’

      ‘We h= ave discovered a man renting a cottage on the far side of the lake –̵= 7; Beesely glanced at him, then out across the lake. ‘- and he is a Serb.’

      ‘Oh dear.’

      ‘We h= ave had complete surveillance for the last twelve hours, but it seems he was th= ere for maybe a week or two?’

      ‘Two = weeks? That would have been long before we even contacted the Serbs. Before you= contacted me.’

      ‘He w= as already watching this facility, I think,’ Otto suggested.<= /span>

      ‘Not = much to see from over there. Besides, why in God’s name would anyone try a= nd watch this place, knowing that he would probably be caught and, more importantly, what we might do to him?’

      ‘This= man is no professional.’

      Beesely gav= e Otto an intolerant glance. ‘That’s obvious!’=

      ‘He is alone and he does not leave the cabin. No one has seen him, not even the ow= ner of the chalet. The booking was made by a Swiss man and paid in cash more th= an six weeks ago. This man drove across the German border two weeks ago, and he has with him a lot of food - he has not used the local shops, no gasoline, nothing.’

      They both w= alked slowly down the grass, studying the far shore.

      ‘Not = so unprofessional, avoiding local people,’ Beesely conceded.<= /span>

      ‘This= man puts his rubbish outside with his fingerprints on bottles, his DNA, and even papers with his name on, maps with drawings on. All in his bag for rubbish.’

      ‘Ah, = not so clever.’

      ‘And = he does not know we are watching him. In the chalet he has a large telescope.’

      ‘He w= ouldn’t see much, even with a large telescope. Not from that distance.’ Beese= ly massaged the top of his head, a heavy frown forming. ‘What possible u= se could he be to anyone? The best he could hope to do is report when vehicles come and go.’

He turned about and studied the topography of the ground in front of the castle, which parts could be seen = from across the lake. Finally, he shook his head. ‘Can’t see how he would even know who was in the vehicles. Does he have a receiver for a listening device?’

‘No, nothing; we swept the ch= alet and surrounding area and his car. He has a mobile phone, but does not switc= h it on.’

‘An amateur who has been sent= by a professional, some elements of each,’ Beesely mused.

‘If we have an agreement with= the Serbian authorities, why is he still here?’

‘Let’s find out. Pick h= im up, keep him isolated and uncomfortable, but not hurt. Then go over his car, the house, and especially his phone.’

Otto stepped away and made a call as Beesely noticed a silver Mercedes SL coming up the road, not a vehicle he recognised. Slowly ambling up the grass, he stopped at the edge of the tarm= ac area.

Johno jumped out, and waved lazily = as his female companion eased out under an armful of shopping bags. He kissed her = on her cheek, exchanging a few words before she headed inside. The keys were tossed to a guard, who now drove the Mercedes away. ‘Need anything?’ Johno cheerfully asked as he stepped up to Beesely, Otto s= tood a few yards away with his back to them.

‘Only your undying love and devotion.’

Johno focused on Beesely, his eyes narrowing. ‘Don’t know about that.’

      ‘You = seem to have made a new friend?’

      ‘Just= one of the hookers.’ Johno stuck his hands in his pockets and glanced tow= ards Otto. ‘I mean … physiotherapists.’

      ‘Hook= ers, and physiotherapists, should still be treated like ladies; I should know, I’ve been through some of the best of them in my time. And if this on= e is nice then she could put her former life behind her and may become a useful companion.’

      Johno seemed surprised at the suggestion.

      Beesely ste= pped closer. ‘It does happen, you know - sugar daddy and all that. First, = you would need to establish if she is any good in bed.’ He turned back towards the lake, hiding a grin.

      ‘She&= #8217;s getting there. I’m teaching her. Slowly.’

      ‘Good, good. You wouldn’t want to rush into anything.’

      Otto rejoin= ed them. ‘Jane is waiting in the restaurant.’

      Johno held = his watch for Beesely to see. ‘I was back on time.’

      Otto added, ‘We will pick up that man in a few minutes.’<= /p>

      ‘What man?’ Johno asked.

      Beesely ans= wered, ‘Seems we have a spy across the lake. A Serb spy ... and he’s b= een rather haplessly spying on us with a large telescope.’

      ‘From= over there!’ Johno laughed. ‘He ain’t going to see sod-all from over there.’

      ‘Yes,= we know. A puzzler, isn’t it?’

 

Stood on the veranda of his villa, Pepi glanced at his watch, now observing the second hand count down. He waved to his grandchildren as they splashed arou= nd in his pool.

 

3

=  

The sound of the bomb’s detonation registered as little more than a muffl= ed ‘thud’.

      Beesely gla= nced down the slope to the lakeside road, half expecting to see two vehicles sto= pped after a collision. Otto turned to the right, glancing at the office buildin= g. It sounded to him similar to a door slamming too loud.

      Johno glanc= ed every which way, grabbing Beesely by the arm as he did. ‘That sounded like a grenade!’ he shouted, loud enough for Otto to react.

      ‘Alar= m!’ Otto shouted at the top of his voice towards the guards in the courtyard. T= he men began sprinting in all directions, but mostly towards Beesely. Red ligh= ts started flashing on the castle walls, a second later an alarm sounding.

      ‘Alar= m!’ echoed, repeated by many voices in the distance.

      ‘That= is the fire alarm!’ a surprised Otto shouted, now stood staring at the castle.

      Johno manha= ndled the protesting Beesely to the nearest Range Rover, suddenly blanketed by six guards. Otto ordered a guard to drive, and he scrambled into the front passenger seat. Beesely was trying hard to avoid getting injured by Johno a= s he was unceremoniously lifted head first onto the back seat, Johno sat on his = legs a second later.

      ‘Go, = go, go!’ Johno shouted.

      Another sir= en wailed, this second one distinctly different from the fire alarm.

      ‘My God,’ Otto muttered as the vehicle drove away from the castle, carryi= ng on the way it had been facing and past the office block, not back towards t= he camp and the main gate. Beesely screamed for Johno to get off his legs, try= ing to edge upright.

      Johno grabb= ed Otto’s shoulder. ‘What is it?’

      Otto sat di= alling his phone. ‘It is the alarm for a chemical attack. A chemical weapon = has been used. Maybe nerve agent.’

      ‘Nerve agent?’ Beesely repeated.

      Johno helpe= d him to sit comfortably. ‘That’s what that bastard over the lake was waiting for, to see if we all come running out bleeding out of our eyes and ears!’

      Otto sat sh= outing questions in German down his phone. Something was not clear, he kept repeat= ing it over and over again. He directed the driver where he wanted to go as Joh= no grabbed his shoulder again.

‘What’s happened?’ Johno shouted.

      With a voice still buzzing from his phone, Otto turned all the way around to face Beesel= y. ‘There was an explosion ... in the restaurant.’

      BeeselyR= 17;s arms were immediately flailing around, reaching for the door. ‘Jane’s up there!’

      Johno grabb= ed the top of his head, and held his face an inch from his own. ‘Stay with us!’ he barked. ‘Stay with the game - we need you focused. Kill= the emotion ‘til the shooting stops!’

      ‘Jane= !’ Beesely cried again.

      ‘We .= .. don’t ... know!’ Johno barked. ‘She could be anywhere. She could be on the bog or in her room.’

      ‘She = was waiting for us...’ Beesely’s words were heavily distorted, his = eyes now moist, his breathing irregular.

      ‘Stay= with us!’ Johno repeated.

      The car swe= rved hard, turning down a small lane towards thickening trees and the base of the mountain. A three storey traditional wooden cottage appeared from behind the trees, nestled against the base of the heavily overgrown cliff. The lower l= evel housed a tall archway, big enough for a vehicle to drive into, a guard wavi= ng them into the black interior.

The driver flicked on the headlight= s and tooted his horn a few times as they entered a dark tunnel, lights appearing= in the tunnel ceiling after twenty yards. The tunnel became much brighter as it widened into a cavern that a vehicle could easily turn around in. Ahead sto= od two guards in gas masks, each holding MP5s. Otto had lowered his window as = they neared and now shouted orders. The guards grabbed at large handles and star= ted to drag a set of massive steel doors open. When there appeared enough room, just, the driver sped through, again using his horn.

      With Otto&#= 8217;s window wound down, the rush of cold air and the sound of rubber tyres on concrete filled the inside of the Range Rover. Lights flashed by, the noise level rose, and Otto strained to watch Beesely. Sharp braking slowed the ve= hicle as it entered an even larger cavern, the smooth interior walls painted a brilliant white.

      ‘Quic= k! Out!’ Otto shouted as he jumped down, more frantic than controlled.

      Johno jumped quickly out of his door, so did the driver, and they bumped shoulders as Jo= hno sped around to Beesely’s side.

Beesely hadn’t moved, he was = sat transfixed in his grief.

      ‘C= 217;mon!’ Johno barked, grabbing hold of Beesely and practically carrying him out. The driver grabbed an arm, and Beesely’s feet hardly touched the floor as= they rushed inside another chamber, closely following Otto.

      The corridor narrowed and darkened, barely enough room for them three abreast, red lights flashing in the ceiling. A guard wearing a gas mask opened an inner door, w= arm air enveloping them.

      ‘Here= !’ Otto shouted. ‘Put him here!’ He pointed at a sofa on the right= , up two steps. ‘Doctor!’

      This was the emergency bunker, a quarter of the size of the main control room and on just one level; desks, chairs and computers laid out in a pattern similar to its= big brother. The lights were dim, sirens wailed, and red lights flashed warnings from the walls and from many computer screens. Close to thirty people were = now crammed into this room, which would have been cosy with just twenty.

      Beesely was= laid carefully down. Johno knelt beside him, holding his head and using his hand= as a pillow. ‘You still with us?’ Johno whispered, their faces alm= ost touching.

      ‘Secu= re ... the perimeter ... news ... blackout.’ Beesely’s eyes had remain= ed closed as he whispered it. ‘Take charge.’

  =     ‘That’s more like it,’ Johno approved.

      The doctor = put a hand on Johno’s shoulder, a polite way of telling him to ‘get t= he hell out the way. With one final glance back, Johno turned aw= ay, pushing through the staff and seeking out Otto. Otto did not recognise it w= as Johno pushing through the crowd until he stood right next to him. Seeing Johno’s face reminded him, so he launched onto tiptoe and looked towa= rds Beesely.

=       Johno grabbed the side of Otto’s head. ‘Hey! Focus! Forget Beesely. F= irst, win the fight. Second, secure casualties. We won’t be any good to him= if we … are dead.’

=       Otto needed a moment to compose himself, taking a breath and straightening his t= ie. He nodded his acceptance of the suggestion.

      ‘Is t= his room secure?’ Johno barked to no one in particular.=

      ‘Yes.= ’

      ‘Gas proof?’

      ‘Yes,= ’ Otto replied. ‘Bomb proof also.’

      ‘Prim= ary perimeter? Is it secure?’

      Otto pointe= d at a screen. ‘We have video feed of outside.’

=       Johno led him closer to a screen that displayed nine small squares, each one a different part of the grounds. ‘All gates secure?’ he asked, lo= ud enough for everyone to hear. People were answering. ‘Any gunfire reported?’ Negative. ‘Any intruders reported?’ Negative again. Johno rubbed his face. ‘OK, tell the base guards to sweep for intruders in the grounds and also outside the gate, up to one mile. C’mon, move!’

=       Orders were barked into phones and radios, Otto now looking out of his depth compa= red to Johno.

      Johno added, ‘Then sweep all buildings for explosives. And evacuate the non-essent= ial admin’ staff.’ He checked the monitors. ‘Where was the explosion?’ he asked, tapping the screen.

      An operator= used a mouse to click the top of the screen. Up came nine boxes showing nine different views of the restaurant. And each overlapping image displayed bod= ies.

      Johno straightened, taking a deep breath. If Jane had been in there then she woul= d be one of the casualties; none were moving. He faced Otto. ‘You said it = was a gas attack?’

      Otto pointe= d to the wall. ‘That blue and white flashing light ... it ... it means gas= of some sort.’

      ‘Is it calibrated for nerve agent?’

      ‘Yes,= ’ Otto nodded, studying the bodies. Others had noticed the display and were s= tood with their hands over their mouths.

      ‘Cut = those damn alarms!’ Johno shouted to no one in particular. A moment later t= hey were off. He turned back to the computer operator. ‘Call up the comma= nd centre.’

      Up came nin= e more images, this time of managerial staff going about their business, albeit hurriedly.

      ‘It l= ooks secure,’ Johno noted.

=       ‘Yes, it seems only one small bomb, in the restaurant,’ the operator stated= .

  =     Johno held Otto’s arm and whispered, ‘Make sure no one in the outside world knows about this. We don’t want to appear weak!’

      Otto turned= to an operator who had been listening in and nodded a signal.

      ‘Is everyone in the castle out?’ Johno asked.

      The computer operator displayed an outside image. A few dozen people were stood in a gro= up, one taking a roll call.

      Johno point= ed. ‘Get him on the radio.’

      ‘Herr Frieserling, bitte!’

The man on camera could be seen lif= ting up a radio.

      Johno point= ed to the operator who had made the call. ‘Are they all outside?’

      ‘Sieb= en verschollen!’ Seven missing.

      ‘I co= unted six in the restaurant,’ Johno stated, leaning forwards and tapping the screen. ‘Get the restaurant images back up.’<= /p>

      The live-fe= ed images reappeared. With a finger touching the image of each body, he said, ‘I still make that six. Wait, what’s that?’ There were fo= ur legs to a body; someone lay underneath. He turned to Otto. ‘Are the d= oors to the restaurant fire proof?’ Otto nodded. ‘Gas proof?’ Again he nodded. ‘So no one outside is in danger. Yet.’ He turn= ed to the operator. ‘Zoom in on the windows. Are they broken?’

      Otto pointe= d at several staff and told them to help. Images appeared on many screens.<= /o:p>

      ‘Can = anyone see any broken windows?’ Johno barked. No one answered. ‘Is the= re any way the gas could get out?’

      The computer operator turned his head. ‘There is the chimney to the cookers in the kitchen.’

      ‘Show me.’ A different image came up. ‘That’s the cooking area? There’s no one in it, so they ran into the main area when they heard = the explosion, getting the gas all over them.’ Johno pointed. ‘Is t= hat door secure?’

      ‘Yes,= ’ the man replied. ‘Fire door.’

‘Cut off electricity and gas = to the kitchens. Can that be done from outside?’ It could. Johno stretched h= is back. ‘So the gas is contained in the restaurant for now. Go back to it.’

      Up came the= same set of images.

      ‘We h= ave chemical suits –’ a man began.

      Johno turne= d to him. ‘Forget it, they are all very dead. And if you open the d= oor a lot of other people will be dead too.’ He glanced towards Beesely, regretted having said that quite so loud.

  =     ‘That is the bomb, I think,’ a computer operator said, pointing at his moni= tor.

      ‘Zoom in,’ Johno ordered. He could soon see what appeared to be an aerosol = can on the floor, ripped open and shredded at one end. ‘Yeah,’ he confirmed. ‘Small gas device. Show me the windows.’<= /span>

      The camera = zoomed in on a window.

      ‘More= ,’ Johno ordered. ‘Best resolution.’ He peered at the screen. ‘Gel?’ he whispered. ‘Show me a body, close up on the hands.’

      The operator glanced up at him, then zoomed in on a woman’s hands. ‘My God!’ The hands were twice their normal size, red and puffed up.=

      ‘Now = the face,’ Johno quietly added.

      The man pan= ned right to the ghastly image of a head twice as big as it should have been.

      Johno straightened. ‘N20 nerve gas.’

      ‘N20?= ’ Otto repeated.

      ‘Its effects are called Elephant Man Symptoms; it blows up the skin and tissues, blisters the skin. Victims blow up like balloons.’

      Otto turned= and barked, ‘N20 nerve gas, get me all references!’

      ‘Don&= #8217;t bother,’ Johno stopped him. ‘I know more about N20 than most. It was made by the Russians forty years go, maybe more. Only other people to h= ave it are the Serbs.’

      ‘Serb= s!’ Otto gasped. He stared questioningly at Johno.

      Johno quiet= ly explained, as he studied the screens, ‘My first mission into Bosnia w= as to recover it from a Serb base. We knew we didn’t get all of it, blew= up what we could. Only good thing to say about it is that it oxidises quickly;= you could walk through the restaurant in an hour with no ill effects.’

      He pointed = at the screen. ‘That’s gel. It’s used to transport the nerve age= nt, too dangerous to carry it around in aerosol form unless you’re wearin= g a protective suit. And we would have noticed that. It was in that little can = in gel form for safety, and the small explosion was needed to spread it around.’ He tapped the operator’s arm. ‘Focus on the bomb= .’ The camera zoomed in. Johno pointed to the rear of the frame. ‘There. That seat has blown out.’

      Others were calling up the image.

      Otto studie= d it with a determined frown. ‘The bomb was at the rear of that seat, behi= nd the fixed padding?’

      ‘Pan down,’ Johno suggested. ‘There, a timer with three pencil batteries. No damage, explosion too small. We may even get fingerprints off that.’

      ‘Time= r?’ Otto repeated. ‘How long could it have been there?’<= /span>

      Johno gave a slight shrug. ‘With those batteries on a small timer, six weeks,̵= 7; he informed them.

      Otto appear= ed stunned; to think that this device could have been there all that time. And= it could have killed them all. ‘Why would the Serbs risk coming here a d= ay before it was due to go off? One small mistake and they would be killed.= 217;

      Johno sighe= d at Otto’s naivety. ‘Those Serb Ministers didn’t know about t= he device. No way they would have sat around that table.’

      ‘Anot= her Serb group?’ Otto posed.

      ‘It&#= 8217;s Serb nerve gas,’ Johno pointed out. ‘That don’t mean they placed it there. Last I heard various terror groups were trying to buy the stuff from Bosnian Serbs.’

      Otto repeat= ed his request. ‘All references to N20 or Serbian nerve gas, all agencies, t= op priority!’

      ‘We a= lready have a suspect,’ Johno quietly pointed out. ‘The man from over = the lake.’

      ‘He c= ould not have entered!’ Otto insisted.

      ‘Mayb= e not, but he might know who did. I will personally have a word with him later.’

      ‘No, = you won’t.’ It was Beesely, stood a few steps behind. ‘I will have a chat with our friend at the right time.’ People moved respectf= ully out of his way, the noise level falling.

      ‘You = OK, Boss?’ Johno asked.

      ‘No.&= #8217; Beesely navigated his way slowly through the staff to the computer screens, people edging out of his way. The images from the restaurant held his gaze = for ten seconds. Pointing to a door directly ahead, he quietly asked Otto, ‘Does that lead to the control room?’

      Otto confir= med that it did.

      Beesely too= k a long slow breath, and lowered his head. For a moment he closed his eyes. Placing a hand on the first computer operator’s shoulder, he ordered, ‘I want all video footage of that chair for the past few weeks. I wan= t to see the face of the man who planted that bomb. Otto, Johno, if you please, = my office.’

=  

= ‘Sir?’ Pepi’s assistant called.

=       Pepi turned= his head.

=       ‘The = bomb has gone off, many dead, no details yet.’

=       Pepi turned= back to his meal, now sat having lunch with his daughter. ‘Keep me informed,’ he casually requested.

=       ‘They= will have to evacuate the castle,’ his daughter stated without looking up.=

=       Pepi nodded= as he chewed. Taking in the view of his vineyard, he said, ‘They would have been better off with Gunter still in charge. This … English actor, or whatever he is, has no idea of the history, or what factors are in play. Ri= ght now he will be flopping around like a fish out of water, wishing he was bac= k in London at the retirement home.’

=       ‘Why = do you think the Swiss brought him in?’ she idly asked.

=       ‘Maybe Gunter fell ill. They could see that his will left K2 to the state, maybe t= hey figured they needed to distance themselves from it.’ He chuckled. ‘Or maybe, after forty years, they’ve grown a backbone and want= a fight.’

=  

4

      =

Despite prior standing orders, hardly relevant to today, all the staff in the comma= nd centre stopped what they were doing and observed Beesely as he made his way around the upper level and into his office.

      ‘All managers,’ he softly requested as he entered.

      In a minute= they were gathered, huddled in the doorway with notepads in hand.

      ‘Seat= s, coffee,’ Beesely ordered with a wave of his hand, Johno sitting behind him on the cabinet. ‘And some chocolate, please.’ His voice tra= iled off to a whisper as he finished with, ‘Blood sugar levels.’ He = took out his old fountain pen, made it ready and placed it on his notepad as sec= tion heads dragged chairs into a half-circle and settled down. Otto remained in = the doorway, phone in his hand.

      Beesely wai= ted. When the room reached a noise level not far above silence,