PISCO, PROVINCIA DE ICA
Zoe hit the floor, ducking behind the folds of drapery which lined the pretty, coastal holiday room. Their cheery fabric mocked her fears, rippling back and forth with the ocean breeze that had worked its way over the few, short blocks picking up notes of cement dust and cigar smoke.
It was an instinctual reaction, one she performed before any conscious thought processed the impulse. Danger. In the air – on her nose – bubbling through her heart, sheering off a layer of frost as it beat faster. A long time ago, Zoe had entertained the same foolish dream of Will's – that time might calm her compulsion and dampen the creeping paranoia directed toward the world generally. If anything, those suspicions had grown more intense.
Lurking on the opposite side of the street was a silver Cadillac, riding low with a full company of shit heads inside. Thick moustaches, full suits despite the heat and a trail of illicit smoke clawing out from the slither of open window. Wrapping her hands around the arm of the chair, she edged toward the window, risking another glance.
Her fears were not without solid ground. Harry had been spot on with his accusations. Her insistence on a life with the Chilean Police Force cemented the danger. Despite herself, Zoe craved the constant rush of adrenaline. It's what attracted her to the service in the first place. What she feared was that part of her life bleeding into the other – her family. She had a husband and a daughter to think of now. These men, whomever they were, were treading dangerously.
"You don't want to play with me," she whispered at the window. "Not after what I've seen."
"What are you doing, Honey?" Will asked, wandering into the bedroom. He found his wife on the floor, half hidden by one of the curtains she'd tugged free of the bar above.
"Looking for an earring," she lied easily, closing what remained of the drapes as she stood. "Why – did you want to offer your services?" Zoe clocked her head to the side and flashed him a distracting smile. Meanwhile, her hands tied the curtains in place.
Will North knew his wife better than Zoe realised. He could tell both when she was lying and when she was thinking about lying. This was the former. He'd given up fishing for the truth long ago. It was all part of package when marrying a spy. "I might. Though, it would cost you."
"I warned you when we were married, I am a woman of humble means."
"Poor was the word we used. Fugitive was another." They both grinned. "I was thinking more along the lines of child services... Could you take her for a while? I might have a lie down if you don't mind. All that driving, it doesn't agree with me."
Zoe frowned, lifting the back of her hand to his forehead. He was sticky with pre-sweat. "You're a touch pale..." she noted. "Are you feeling all right?"
"Just the travelling," he replied. "Either that or I'm going down with something. Kids at the park... Plague carriers – all of them."
"Since we've become parents we've had every disease known to mankind – twice. Of course I'll look after her. You – stay here. We won't make too much noise."
"Might take a shower, actually..." Will added, before idly wandering in the direction of the bathroom. A few minutes later she heard the taps go, followed by steam snaking under the door into the bedroom.
Zoe headed downstairs where their little girl was bouncing around, face painted with rainbows and butterflies while she conversed with her latest imaginary friend. Zoe suspected this one might be a bird because she spoke primarily to her shoulder. Enough pirate movies for a while.
Despite the warmth of her family, Zoe's thoughts drifted back to the briefcase she'd handed to Harry. It had been days. Would she ever see or hear from him again? It was impossible to tell. If Harry could avoid digging up the past, he would. Zoe wasn't naïve, she understood that her freedom was a complication to a man like Harry – however good his heart might be. Even without him she still had an upset drug cartel to deal with – one that was going to be missing their leader shortly and a potentially corrupt police force. Hell, there was probably four other major groups after her that wasn't aware of.
"Where are we going, Mummy?"
Zoe hoisted her daughter into her arms. "Upstairs, Sweetie," she replied. "Mummy forgot something."
Before heading back upstairs, she checked all the locks and drew a few more curtains. Then, when her daughter was safely playing on the bed, Zoe went to change. She slipped a handgun into the waist of her jeans and a knife down her boot. She approached the window again. The car had moved. She decided that was worse.
A loud crash made her jump. It came from the direction of the bathroom.
Zoe nodded. "He probably dropped something. Stay here."
She knocked on the bathroom door. "Honey?" Knocked again. "You okay in there?" Then she opened to find Will on the floor in the shower, spread out with his limbs in all the wrong directions, awkwardly folded into the glass cubical like a spider in a jar. He was staring dumbly at the soap in his hand while the hot water rand down over his back leaving a scorched, red halo from the heat.
"Must have slipped..." Will muttered, seeming disoriented. His head started to drip blood from below the hairline. Its droplets were instantly washed away by the water. The glass barrier behind was cracked.
"You're all right..." Zow assured him, collecting her husband from the ground. She killed the taps, wrapped him in a towel and ushered him into the bedroom. If anything, he looked worse than before. "I think you've definitely picked up something from those kids earlier," she said, making sure that he sat on the bed. Do not lie down. You could have a little concussion from that knock. I'll go find you something for your head."
She ratted around the cabinets in the bathroom for anything vaguely medicinal. Short of Macgyvering something in the sink out of miniature shampoo bottles, her options were reduced to bandaids, mouthwash and a sheet of painkillers. With that pitiful offering, Zoe re-entered the bedroom, reading the Spanish on the unfamiliar packaging best she could.
"Look," she started, holding the box in front of her face, "I'm at least eighty percent sure that these are pain killers but if you're not willing to risk your life on my Spanish then I suggest you-" Zoe stopped dead.
The men from the car had assembled themselves in her bedroom. One of them held her little girl in his arms. Two more had guns trained on her husband while a fourth pressed the barrel of his gun to her head.
Carefully, Zoe dropped the box and lifted her hands. "Easy..." she whispered, trying to keep everyone calm. "What can I do for you, gentlemen?"
Will was covered in a fresh sheen of sweat. His hands had begun to shiver,trembling against the surface of the bed where he sat. He nodded at her to say that everything was all right. Both of them maintained a facade of peace for the sake of their daughter who had not yet understood the danger.
"Angel Blanco!" The one with the gun on her head hissed. He repeated it, over and over, his aggression rising until Zoe nodded.
"Yes! I saw him. Yes..." Zoe felt the weapon press more firmly into her skin. "Few days ago. Near Shintuya. He's – dead." Her legs were kicked from underneath her. Zoe fell, landing on her knees.
"It's okay, Sweetie."
"How die? How die!" The man with the gun demanded. "You kill him?"
"He was dead before I got there," Zoe replied, turning to face the man. He was a small-time drug dealer, a miner name trailing Blanco's shadow.
"Liar!" This time, the man back-handed her with the weapon.
Zoe cowered forward with the pain, feeling it sear into her flesh. Blood trickled down her cheek as she sat back up. "Okay... You won't believe me if I tell you the truth." To her left, she heard Will double over in a sudden coughing fit. "Blanco was gravely ill. He'd – taken something. Some shit he'd bought for a lot of money. Sent him crazy. Crazier than you've ever seen. His flesh-" she carefully gestured to one of her arms, "-was black and falling off. I shot him several times but he wouldn't die. An old woman – she cut his head clean off. Then he died. We burned the body. That's the truth of it."
Zoe had expected them to hit her again – call her a liar and beat her until she came up with believable half-truth but that's not what happened. The man with the gun took a step back, lowering his weapon. He rubbed his face in anguish, then held the gun against his head idly as he processed what she'd said.
"Blanco – sick..."
"Yes, sick. I had to kill him. He chased me through the forest like a ghost."
The man holding her daughter spoke this time. His English was perfect with a vaguely American accent. "What happened to the case with the drugs?"
She shook her head. "There was no case. I searched the hut in the forest but there was only an empty needle. Bring me a map, I'll show you where it is, you can go back and search-"
The muffled gunshot echoed in Zoe's ears. Will groaned, his hands grasping his upper thigh which immediately started to bleed over the bedding. 'Son of a bitch!' he muttered, while their daughter started to cry.
"You need to stop lying, or we'll find out how many holes your husband can stand before he begs us to end it. We saw you with the case. Who was the man in the cafe?"
"Honey – what's he talking about?"
Zoe tried not to look at her husband. "Let me hold my daughter. Please. You're scaring her. Come on. Please..." The man only obliged so he didn't have to deal with the screaming girl. Once cradled safely in her arms, Zoe replied. "I found the case. There was a single container inside but it was empty. Blanco injected the whole lot before he went mad. Whatever the hell it was he'd bought on the black market, it was far worse than any of us have seen. I handed the case over to a private drug production company. I figured, maybe they could find a trace of whatever it was so that when it hits the streets we won't be fighting blind. That is the truth."
"Does it wear off?"
"The effects of the drug," the man, now empty handed, asked. He was pacing across in front of the curtains, looking nervous. "How long does it take to come out of someone's system?"
"I – I think you've misunderstood. From what I saw of Blanco – it killed him, left him as some walking corpse. It might depend on how much you take but I don't think it wears off like a hit of coke. Argh!" She was grabbed by the back of her shirt and dragged over in front of her husband.
"That better be a lie..." The man growled against her ear. "Because if what you say is true and there is no cure – your husband will join Blanco in the next world."
Zoe lost track of the hours. They were loaded into the back of a van, tied together and blind folded. Highway turned to gravel and the flat gave way to mountains. That's all she knew. They were separated on arrival. Zoe was walked down a long corridor that smelled of hash and dust. Material brushed against her face until she was brought to a stop. Her blind fold was ripped off and she stood facing a cage.
It was six foot high and nearly as much wide – large enough to hold the man sitting against the bars. He had his knees pulled to his chest and torn clothes. The man, one of the heads of a rival drug cartel, rocked back and forth, muttering incoherently. His eyes were bloodshot and dark red rashes were on both arms.
"Jesus..." Zoe whispered, taking half a step forward to get a better look.
"Blanco wasn't the only one to buy a batch." The English speaking man from before continued. "On the street, they call it, 'Glass'." He shoved a phone in her hand. It was wrapped in duct tape and wire. "The man you gave the briefcase to – call him."
"Let's not play games. Call the man or your daughter will be waiting for your husband on the other side."
RUTH'S HOUSE, LONDON
The blinds of Ruth's lounge room were all drawn and the windows locked – Harry had checked twice. He wasn't in the mood for any overtly curious MI6 minions sticking their noses in. Actually, the only thing he was in the mood for was more tea but they were out of that particular commodity and were left with a disastrous sludge of instant coffee slushing about in the bottom of his mug.
Over the course of the morning, Ruth and Harry had migrated to the floor and were now surrounded by hundreds of loose sheets of paper from the stolen file. Some were grouped into piles, others lay off to the side as half-thoughts or suspicions momentarily given life only to be buried under another pile of abandoned conjecture.
"This is hopeless..." Harry muttered turning another piece of paper over. They'd been at it for hours and found sod all to explain why MI6 had made several high-risk plays for the information in front of them. "If this is so important to them, one wonders why they don't have a crack at downloading the original file themselves instead of fussing about with murder and theft. Completely irrational, even for our older siblings."
Ruth's eyes dragged their way up from the papers in her hands. Sometimes Harry faltered in the face of technology. He was such a stereotypical Cold War spy when he wanted to be.
"Because," she replied slowly, making sure her words were weighted with sufficient ire, "they can't. I'm not sure you've quite grasped the enormity of what Malcolm and Simon achieved. Illegal thought it may have been, it was also brilliant. If MI6 hadn't killed him, another branch of our government would have done the honours. The only reason Malcolm remains at large is because he is one of the greatest, most underrated Spooks who ever lived. He might never have been particularly physical but he could break into a Swiss bank in under four minutes while knocking off half of Sony's online collection."
"As usual Ruth, you do have a point. Malcolm is and always was a slippery bugger which is the chief reason I kept him locked on the Grid. On that note, have you heard any news?"
"None," Ruth replied. "The man is a ghost. When he's ready to talk to us, I'm sure he'll find a discreet way. We'll have to exercise a little patience."
Harry sighed at the files surrounding them. It was late in the morning. The sun was well under way in its daily ark and people had begun milling past the front windows on their way to work. He could see their shadows and hear the padding of paws as the dog walkers stormed through.
"It's all just – more of the same..." he protested, letting his current file fall to the floor in resignation. It didn't quite make it – catching a corner of another which kicked it up into a passing air current. The result of its good fortune led to it sashaying across the floor into Ruth's hand.
"You're joking..." She whispered, narrowing her eyes at the document. Without her glasses she had to bring it comically to her nose. No, she had not been mistaken. "Rasmussen has a child."
"Is that meant to be particularly interesting?" Harry yawned. "What are you doing?" He added, when she leaned forward and started rustling through all their papers. "Ruth... Don't go silent on me. You're making a dreadful mess of that pile of – no – oh my word..."
Ruth ignored his pleas for sanity and instead yanked pages from their binders and laid all the little pieces of evidence she had gathered side by side, nodding as she went.
"Are you going to share the joke?" Harry asked, when Ruth covered her mouth with her hand and started tentatively laughing at the otherwise innocuous page. It was a photo of Rasmussen.
"Your friend, the Chinese President, is a two-timing, back-stabbing, bad influence on you, Harry. Look..."
"I did. Rasmussen. What's your point?"
"Read the name tag..." She advised, tapping on the silver pin clipped onto his lab coat.
"Son of a-"
"That's what MI6 is after."
"What are you going to do?"
Harry used the couch to climb back to his feet. Several vertebra in his spine cracked in protest reminding him that he really should pick up that prescription even if it meant admitting his inclining years. "It's nearly eight. I thought I might look in on the Grid before I'm replaced by a left-leaning stick insect with twelve sets of letters after their name."
"Harry..." Ruth stood as well, folding her arms sternly. "What are you doing..."
He never got around to answering her, so Ruth was left collecting the remnants of their top secret file. She'd have to find it another hiding place. That wouldn't be too difficult. There were many places in a house which men were unaware of.
Siviter was happy. The sun had found a crack in the otherwise infinite cloud banks. The drizzle had momentarily ceased. There was a steaming double-shot hazelnut latte in front of him and his phone was face down on the chequered tablecloth. His world was complete – dare he say, perfect.
His reverie dissipated under the shadow of his uninvited guest.
"Skim-cap," Harry nodded at the waiter, before dragged out the chair opposite Siviter with a god-awful screech. A few people turned around, casting disapproving looks. Siviter's company of two agents kept their noses in their respective coffee cups.
"Pearce... I'd like to say, 'what a pleasure' but I've turned over a new leaf."
"And what particular leaf is that?" Harry asked, settling himself. It was quite a pleasant spot, overlooking a glimpse of London's ever-greying skyline. "An aversion to hospitality?"
Siviter found himself amused. "Mind if I smoke?"
"Oh go ahead, anything to hasten your departure from the Earth." He helped himself to a square of toast left over.
"How's Ms Evershed?"
Harry didn't look up as he replied. "Doing better. Your car's parked around the corner." He fished the keys out of his pocket and placed them on the table.
"Why do I get the feeling that you here for more than my car, Harry?"
"You never know, I might surprise you."
"Give it a go."
"Whilst driving your vehicle the long way over here, it occurred to me that we – that is – the both of us, work for Her Majesty's Government."
"That is, indeed, true."
"And that, due to this surprising fact, perhaps we can be of service to each other." His coffee came, steaming beside him. Harry left Siviter waiting while he blew over the foam softly and took a sip. "Considering this, I thought we could adjourn to your house – you've an acquaintance there I'd like to meet."
Jools Siviter was quiet, attending his own coffee. He used the overwhelming odour of overpriced roasted seed to hide from the world and procrastinate. "I'm not sure I understand you." Harry lofted that irritating eyebrow of his in response. The trouble with Harry was that he was as good at sniffing out lies as he was at weaving them. "Even if I did, it would take a lot more than your company over breakfast to entice me. I presume you have something more substantial to offer?"
"That item that you weren't looking for in Ruth's house..." Then Harry tapped his head, indicating its answer was within. "On my honour – take me back to your abode and I'll speak the truth."
Siviter must have been desperate because after finishing his hijacked breakfast, he drove Harry across town.
"Nay then, farewell! I have touch'd the highest point of all my greatness and, from that full meridian of my glory, I haste now to my setting. I shall fall... Like a bright exhalation in the evening and no man see me more."
"I thought you were illiterate, Harry."
"Mostly," Harry replied, tilting his head as Wolsey Tower loomed out of the mist surrounded by tightly clipped lawns and ancient trees with a spread of velvet leaves that turned their backs to the wind. "But I know solid old English craftsmanship when I see it."
They were in Esher, meandering up the gravel drive of a popular tourist destination. "It was good enough for more than one king of England. Don't pretend you didn't hear the whispers."
"It was considered odd to those who bothered watching the remarkable quantity of government plated cars coming in and out of these gates."
"That's the trouble with spies these days, they refuse to give up their luxury for anonymity."
"Watched too many Bond films."
"Ain't that the truth," Siviter snorted, as they rounded the circular drive and detoured into the car park.
As they stepped out of the car, Siviter lit up one of his comedy cigars – almost certainly the same one he'd been smoking for years. They walked together around to the side of the building where an innocuous swipe panel on the wall was used to unlock a medieval door.
"This is all very theatrical, Jools," Harry started, as they entered. It was, if possible, even more poky inside than he had imagined. They were in a priest's hole. Siviter knelt on the floor in front of Harry and pulled on a giant, iron ring in the centre of a trap door. It opened easy, giving way to a steep stairwell and glow of artificial light. "I'll give you credit for execution though. Why ever did you decide to keep him in this place?"
"It was a voluntary handover," Siviter replied, as they both descended the stairs. The hatch closed on its own behind them. "As convenient as it might sound, we cannot simply put him in a holding cell and interrogate him. He is our guest."
It was the first time Siviter confirmed verbally that MI6 were, indeed holding Rasmussen. The ruins beneath Wolsey Tower had been restored and transformed into top secret accommodation for persons of interest. The security was heavy – a highly technical mix of agents and computers. Harry nodded at Night Owl as he wandered down the corridor in the opposite direction. Night Owl did a double take, damn near running into a wall.
"Good to see you making friends."
"I always bond with my stalkers," Harry insisted, as they took countless corners along the ancient brick passages. Their ceilings were so low that Harry found himself stooping. Poor Siviter, who was significantly taller, was almost bent double. "Is this is then?"
They were standing in front of another set of old looking doors that had been covered with a special perspex layer to both protect them and preserve their ornate exteriors.
"You can go in, it's unlocked," one of the guards outside said.
Inside they found a windowless apartment that had more in common than a cave than a hotel. There was an office area, small kitchen, pair of couches and a bed. Standing in the centre of the room, staring at the sparse bookshelf lining one wall, was Rasmussen.
PISCO, PROVINCIA DE ICA
"What's going to happen to him?" Zoe asked, sitting on the floor in front of her husband. Will North had been placed in one of the plastic enclosures. He leaned against the wall, shivering as the drug started to take hold of his system. Sweat formed across his forehead, dripped down his hair onto the floor surrounding him in a salty rain. The drug lords had their own doctors. They milled about, peering in from time to time, making notes – shaking their heads.
"You tell me..." The man from the hotel said. "Try him again."
Zoe looked at the phone thrust in her direction. "I told you, his number was engaged."
"Then you're going to try again and again and again until this friend of yours picks up."
She didn't take the phone yet, looking instead to Will. "Where's my daughter?"
"Take the phone."
Muffled screaming started from the plastic cell beside them. The rival drug lord couldn't sit any more – instead he curled up into a ball and began howling at the light.
"Who is he – to you? Why've you got him in here?"
"Don't worry about him – worry about your husband and your daughter."
Reluctantly, Zoe took the phone and tried the number again. As she tapped the numbers in, she placed her free hand on the plastic.