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Текст книги "Ghosts"

Автор книги: Mark Dawson

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Текущая страница: 10 (всего у книги 15 страниц)

Chapter Thirty-One

They talked FOR another two hours. Milton didn’t have a plan and so they worked it out on the fly.

“Where are the flash drives?” he asked her.

She paused.

“You have to trust me. I’ve got almost as much of a reason to bring down Control as you do. And this won’t work if you don’t.”

“I know. But… I don’t really know you, Milton, and that’s my only leverage. If I let you have it and it goes wrong…”

“Come on, think. What’s that leverage really worth? How much good has it done you?”

“And how would giving it to the Russians help me?”

“Who said that I was going to give it to them?”

“Then what?”

He rubbed his forehead with the palm of his hand. “There are other ways to make this work.”

“It’s in England.”


“And so is my daughter. How are you going to get her? It’s England. You can’t go back just like I can’t go back. Control will kill you.”

“Someone has to go back. It might as well be me. I can’t keep running forever.”

Chapter Thirty-Two

Anna insisted that she meet Beatrix. It was, she said tersely, a prerequisite for the continuation of the operation. Milton called Beatrix and they arranged a sit-down at the coffee shop. They took a table. Beatrix kept them waiting for thirty minutes and, when she finally arrived, she was wearing dark sunglasses and an impassive expression.

“Thank you for coming,” Anna said, trying to sound authoritative but the effort was undermined by the tremors in her hand. The indignation with the way that Milton had manoeuvred her quickly disappeared as she sat between the two veteran assassins. Her confidence wilted and she fell back upon bravado. Milton was surprised to find himself sympathetic towards her. Seeing her flounder reminded him how young and inexperienced she was. He also felt regret at what he knew he was going to have to do once they were in England. He was sure now that this was her first solo operation and it was obvious that she was determined to do well. She was young and vigorous and desperate to impress Shcherbatov.

It wasn’t going to end up the way she wanted.

“Let’s be quick,” Beatrix said. “There are things we need to be doing.”

“I need to know what you have planned,” she said. “If I’m not satisfied, we don’t go any further.”

“I could just leave,” Beatrix said. “I can go wherever I want.”

“But he can’t,” she said, gesturing towards Milton.

“What are you talking about? He can go wherever he wants.”

“Let me put it another way,” she said, managing to put a little irritation in her voice. “You can both go wherever you want, whenever you want, but if Mr. Milton cares about Mr. Pope, you’ll do this on my terms.”

I don’t care about him,” Beatrix said. “I hardly know him, and it was a long time ago. You need me, and you’ll need to do better than that.”

Anna’s mouth opened and closed as she tried to find the proper retort and failed. She looked from Beatrix, still wearing her glasses, and turned to Milton, looking at her with amused forbearance. “Mr. Milton,” she said, floundering a little, “I thought you said she was reliable?”

“She is,” he said, and, turning to Beatrix, he added, “Go easy on her. She’s got her orders.”

Beatrix sat back and raised her hands in a gesture of helplessness. “Fine. She’s your problem, not mine.”

Milton leant forwards and looked into Anna’s face. “The plan is this,” Milton said. “Beatrix says that she can get you the evidence that the colonel needs for whatever it is he has planned for Control. She’s going to tell me where to find it and I’m going to go and get it.”

“Why can’t she go?”

“England isn’t safe for her.”

“It’s not safe for you.”

“It’s a risk I’m prepared to take. The items are hidden. It doesn’t have to be Beatrix who collects them. She just needs to tell me where they are.”

“And what about her? What does she do?”

“She’s going to stay here.”

“And she’ll give up her secrets just like that?” She looked at Beatrix again and said, accusatorially, “What’s in it for you?”

Beatrix sighed. Milton looked at her, and could see Anna’s face reflected in the lenses of her glasses. “We all have skin in the game here, don’t we?” she said. “Control needs to be out of the picture. The reason I can’t go back is because of him. Same goes for Milton. And he’s told me that your colonel has a hard-on for him. He’ll be able to take him down with my evidence. We all win: your boss gets Control, Milton gets to go home, I get to go home.”

Anna didn’t give up. “Why can’t you go back?”

“That’s none of your business,” Beatrix said.

“I think it is.”

“He has my daughter. If I go back, and he knows sbout it, she isn’t safe. Alright? Is that a good enough reason for you?”

“Your daughter…”

“Anna,” Milton said, interrupting her. “You don’t need to trust her. You only need to trust me. And I’m prepared to go back to England because I believe that she has the evidence that you need and I am going to get it for you. If I’m wrong about her, it’ll probably mean I end up getting shot. But I’m a good judge of character and I think I’m right. That should be good enough for Shcherbatov.” He paused and assessed her; she looked as if she was wrestling with a decision. “Do you need to speak to him?”

She shook her head, frowning angrily. “It’s my operation,” she said. “It’s my decision.”

“So what are we going to do?”

“Fine.” She clenched her jaw. “We go to London.”



Chapter Thirty-Three

Milton stood on the edge of the small airfield, looking at the rows of planes lined up at the side of the grass strip. It had been a long day and a half of travel and there was still more to come. Anna had obtained two tickets for them on Emirates from Hong Kong to Paris Charles de Gaulle and, from there, they drove north to Brittany. The atmosphere between the two of them had been tense for the first few hours. She was still angry and embarrassed about the way that Milton had waylaid her and the inflammatory meeting with Beatrix hadn’t helped. It was pride. Milton knew that she needed to reassert her authority again and so he played along; he needed her on his side for at least the next couple of days.

They had discussed the best way to get into the country when they returned to the hotel. Milton had explained that there was no way that he would be able to get in through the airports, the tunnel or the ports. He knew that his likeness would have been circulated and that it would take moments for an alert to be sounded, and moments after that for armed police to have them face down on the ground. Anna wasn’t phased. She had another method prepared. There was a private airfield on the outskirts of Lannion that local enthusiasts used to explore the north coast of France. There was a small café that served croissants and coffee and they had met their pilot there. He was a quiet, taciturn man, and, when he spoke, it was with an English accent. The man explained that he had flown south from Bournemouth on the pretext of a pleasure flight and that he was cleared to return by the end of the day. He was an SVR man, Milton assumed. It was not a surprise. The agency had already demonstrated the breadth of its reach and it clearly was not beyond them to be able to activate a pilot in the south of England to fly them across the channel.

“Where are you planning to land?” Milton asked as they walked across the facility to the Cessna Skyhawk that had been wheeled out of the line and readied for take-off.

“Back to Bournemouth,” the man said.

“We will drive from there to London,” Anna said. “Will that work?”

“If you can get me into the country, I can handle the rest,” he said.

The pilot opened the cabin door and pulled himself inside. Anna followed him. Milton paused for a moment, taking a final look at the airstrip. There had been a number of moments over the last week that could have been described as points of no return. This was another, and the most significant yet. He knew that once he was inside the country it would be difficult for him to get out again. He had been running away from the Group for months and now he would voluntarily be making it much simpler for them to find him. He entertained the thought, briefly, that he should turn away from the plane, make his way back to the autoroute, put out his thumb and hitch to Paris. It wasn’t too late. He dismissed the notion as quickly as it had formed. That would mean Pope’s death and he knew he would not be able to bear that on his conscience. And he had promised Beatrix his help, too. He couldn’t let her down. His options were circumscribed and it was with that knowledge, and misgivings that what he was doing was still a mistake, that he reached up for the sill of the door and hauled himself inside the cabin.

* * *

The flight was easy. The conditions were perfect and, save a little turbulence as they descended over the south coast to the airstrip at Bournemouth airport, it passed off without incident. The pilot was a member of Bournemouth Flying Club. Like many of the other members of the club, he had a history of return trips to France and there was nothing about this trip that excited the interest of Customs and Excise. His flight details had recorded that the Cessna was carrying three passengers on departure from the UK and there were three passengers upon its return. He taxied the plane to its parking spot and all three disembarked. There was no official attention. The pilot went to file his papers with Customs; Milton and Anna took the car that was waiting for them in the car park and set off for London.

“What are you going to do?” she asked him as he drove north.

“I’m going to get your evidence.”

“And then?”

“And then you can get us back into France and we can go and give it to the colonel.”

“And it is in her old house?”

“That’s what she said.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“No you won’t.”

“You’re not leaving me out again…”

“I’m going to have to break in and get it.”

“You think I haven’t done that before?”

He did, but he said, “I’m sure you have, but I work best alone. You’ll get in my way. This isn’t going to work if we get caught, is it?” He looked across at her; she was frowning. “Look, Anna, I’m not going to try and pull a trick.”

“Like before?”

He ignored that. “What am I going to do? It isn’t as if I’ve got any friends here, is it? Who am I going to ask for help?”

“I realise that.”

“I’m here, aren’t I? Have I done anything to make you think I’m not going to follow through on this?”

She didn’t answer that.

“And I’m not going to. The colonel has worked me into a corner. I don’t have any options other than to co-operate.”

Chapter Thirty-Four

Milton drove them to the Docklands Holiday Inn. He told Anna to take a room and wait for him to return. He said he would be back later that night. She looked uncomfortable but he had persuaded her that the only way for him to collect the evidence was alone and, after a moment of grumbling dissatisfaction, she conceded the point.

He took the tube to Liverpool Street and emerged into the blustery afternoon. It was just before three and the station concourse was busy with workers taking late lunches. He rode the escalator to street level, uncomfortably aware of the armed police stationed on the balcony, machine guns cradled carefully as they observed the busy comings and goings below.

Milton left the shelter of the wide awning that stretched out across the station entrance and into the spitting rain beyond. He took an eastbound bus and settled down for the short drive into the East End. The bus rumbled down the Kingsland Road, past the fried chicken shops, the money exchangers, the halal butchers and the charity shops, past the shabby bedsits above the shops that offered views of grim and brutal lives through their first floor windows. A clutch of young girls climbed to the top deck and went to the back seat, taking out their smartphones, one of them playing the latest R&B through her phone’s sibilant speaker. Milton ignored the distraction. He was staring out of the window, only half aware of where he was, and thinking back to the last time he had visited the area, days after he had told Control that he wanted out.

He thought of Elijah and Sharon Warriner, of the confrontation with Number Twelve that had left him with a bullet in his shoulder and poor Derek Rutherford with one in his head. He thought of the riots that had disfigured these streets and, as he saw the groups of shiftless kids loitering on street corners, and as he felt the almost tangible buzz of aggression in the atmosphere, he didn’t doubt that the tinder was still dry, and with the right spark it could all start burning again.

He took out his phone and opened the map. He had nearly reached the stop he remembered from before and so he rang the bell, climbed down the stairs and disembarked. There was an arcade of shops and he stopped in the small hardware shop to buy a chisel, the bored looking owner trying without success to engage him in conversation. There was a chemist next door; he went inside and bought a box of latex gloves. He went outside and took two pairs out of the box. He stuffed them into his pockets and dropped the box in the nearest bin.

The main road was busy with traffic, a building site representing a half-hearted stab at regeneration, but a few hundred yards to the south was an area of Victorian housing that had been appropriated by the middle-class. The area was close to the city and the houses were solid and pleasant; Milton knew that it was an expensive place to live. He followed the map until he reached Lavender Grove, a charming street overhung with trees. The houses were neat and tidy and the narrow walled gardens that separated the terrace from the pavement were all carefully tended. Beatrix Rose had lived at number thirty. Milton walked down the opposite side of the street, observing the house with a careful eye. The doorway was painted bright red and the brass door furniture was well polished. There was a bicycle in the garden, propped up against the side of the house, and a blind in the top right window was pulled down.

He walked the length of the street, observing the little details: the car that pulled into the kerb outside number eighteen; the open door at number twenty-three, a builder inside sanding the exposed floorboards; the elderly woman with a shopping trolley opening the gate of number twenty-six. Milton reached the end of the road, crossed over the the other side and turned back, checking for additional activity. It was all reasonably quiet; the people who lived here would be at work. It was as much as could be hoped for in a busy London residential street in the middle of the day.

Milton reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of latex gloves. He pulled them on.

He reached number thirty again. With a final check that he wasn’t observed, he reached down for the handle of the freshly painted metal gate, opened it and approached the front door. He knocked, two times, and paused, straining his ears. He waited thirty seconds and then dropped to his knees, pushing open the letterbox and looking inside: there was no sign that anyone was home. He checked up and down the street again. Nothing. Beatrix had said that the door had always been secured with a single mortise lock; he hoped that hadn’t changed. He reached into his pocket for the chisel, shoved it between the door and the jamb, right over the spot where the lock bolt inserted into the box keep, and pulled it back, hard. The door splintered and the bolt popped free. Milton shouldered the door to force it the rest of the way open, stepped quickly inside and pushed it closed behind him. It wouldn’t close properly now that he had damaged it and so he pulled across a large vase that held umbrellas and jammed it against the door.

He listened.


He moved quickly, ignoring the doorways to the sitting room, the kitchen and the downstairs toilet and climbed the stairs to the floor above. Magnolia painted walls, framed prints on the wall. He registered the details peripherally, gaining the landing, passing the open door to the family bathroom and opening the door to the main bedroom. The blind over the window was suffused with dim sunlight, just enough to see, and it revealed a messy room: the bed was unmade, pairs of shoes were stacked up against a wall, clothes spilled out of a wicker basket. Milton moved to the corner of the room next to the window, knelt down and slid his fingers between the carpet and the floorboards. He pulled hard, popping the carpet tacks, and hauled the corner of the carpet back so that he could see the boards beneath. He took the chisel and drove the point into the spot where two boards were nailed to the joist, and yanked back, hard. The wood was old and brittle, scarred with woodworm, and it splintered easily. He inserted the chisel again and prised up a second board, then dropped the tool and used his hands to remove the boards.

There was a small, waterproof freezer bag in the cavity below, resting on the plasterboard ceiling. Milton reached down and pulled it out. There were six USB flash drives inside. He put the drives into his pocket, replaced the boards, covered them with the carpet, collected his chisel and made his way back downstairs again. He lifted the vase out of the way, opened the door and stepped back into the front garden. The road was still quiet. The door drifted open behind him and Milton slammed it, the splintered wood grinding together and holding the door shut. He opened the gate, stepped through, and walked quickly back up the road and away.

Chapter Thirty-Five

Control’s driver was waiting for him next to the Cenotaph in Whitehall. It was a blustery, overcast day, the late afternoon turning into evening, and he paused in the shelter of the entrance to the Ministry building to turn up the collar of his overcoat and open his umbrella. The weather had been like this for a week, and now the gutters were swollen with run-off water and pedestrians hurried to their destinations as the rain lashed around them. Control stepped out from the shelter and a gust of wind caught the umbrella and turned it inside out. Cursing to himself, he hurried down the street, opened the door of the Jaguar and got inside.

The driver asked him where he would like to go.

“The flat,” Control said. “Don’t hang about.”

The driver put the car into gear, pulled into the traffic and headed towards the towers and minarets of the Houses of Parliament. Control looked up at the big Union Jack snapping from its flagpole high above, the pennant ripped back and forth by the gusting wind, and then at the purple-black of the glowering skies behind it. The forecasters were predicting another week of storms. Control’s country house was in a Wiltshire village that was bisected by a river that carved its course through the valley; he had been too busy to go home since last weekend, but his wife had reported that the water was in full spate, and there was some concern that it was close to bursting its banks. It would flood the orchard at the bottom of their garden. She had been very concerned when she had explained the situation. Control made all the right noises, but he had too much to think about in London to worry about that.

The meeting had been called on short notice. The Foreign Secretary had chaired it and he had been joined by the heads of MI5 and MI6. The mood had been pensive. They still had no idea what had happened to Number One. It had been five days now; protocol required them to assume the worst. The Foreign Secretary had been furious, but Control had anticipated his reaction and was not caught out by it. It was a risk that came with the territory in which the Group operated, he had explained. Agents were lost; that could not be avoided. Control was measured and calm and explained what might have happened and what would happen next with patience and tact. The Foreign Secretary was a civilian with no operational experience. That was the problem with politicians; they could not possibly begin to understand the exigencies of his work. The man needed careful handling. The whole Milton debacle had been a challenge to navigate and he had only just emerged on the other side of that, and this new setback would just be a question of educating him into the realities of life in the field.

The bottom line was brutally simple: these things happened.

Pope had been promoted to Number One after Milton had disappeared. The two of them had been friends. Control remembered that they had served together in Northern Ireland at the beginning of their careers. Despite that, he trusted Pope. He had led the team that he had sent to Mexico to bring Milton back and there was no suggestion that its failure had anything to do with his leadership.

The meeting had dragged on. The Foreign Secretary had asked what was likely to happen to Pope if he had been captured and they had debated the possibilities for a while but Control found the discussion tedious and otiose; he had already jettisoned him. He was dead. Even if he had been captured and even if he could have been exchanged for one of the Russian spies that they had swept up over the years he would still be useless to him. Pope was burnt: a busted flush. He was finished and, as such, he would waste no more time or effort on him. It was a difficult job that he did, he reminded himself, and there was no time for sentiment.

The Foreign Secretary had sat at the head of the table, an expression of supercilious disdain on his face and, when the discussion about Pope drew to its conclusion, he had removed his spectacles and tapped them on the table. “Of course,” he had said, “we understand that we are going to lose agents from time to time. Natural erosion, as you say. Can’t be helped. But this is the second time in a year. If it was just the once, well, we could accept that and move on. But it isn’t. What about Milton?”


The thought of him had angered Control and now that anger returned like the echo of thunder. Pope’s loss was excusable. It was regrettable but, as he had made plain, it was a risk that went with the territory. But Milton was different. That was a loss that would stay on his resumé, a stain that would always be there to diminish his many other successes. He blamed himself for what had happened. There had been signs, plenty of signs, but Milton was such a brilliant agent that he had wilfully ignored all of them. That had been a critical mistake. He should have put the failsafes into motion as soon as he had entertained the first suspicion that he was breaking down. He should have issued a file on him, a file with red borders, and given it to one of the other agents to execute. Callan could have done it; the boy was keen. That would have put an end to months of blame and recrimination. That would have preserved his reputation.

He had only made one other mistake like that in the ten years that he had been in command of the Group and he had managed Beatrix Rose much more successfully than he had managed John Milton.

So far.

Pedestrians swilled around the car as the lights that faced the Houses of Parliament went to red.


He felt his temper kindling.

He needed distraction. He opened his briefcase, taking out the latest files that had been assigned to the Group and spread them out on his lap. The Jaguar broke out of the jam that had gathered at the lights, turned left onto Westminster Bridge, and accelerated away.

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