"Don't ever do that again." He drew up and swung for her, missing and
crashing against a chair.
"Get away from me. You're drunk." She shoved him farther into the room,
her voice trembling with anger. Then she wrenched open the hotel room
door and stumbled into the hallway. "_Pomogethya mnye!_"
Their KGB guard, Igor Borisovich, was already running down the hall,
"_Shto _. . .?"
"Help me." She seized his arm and pulled him in.
Mike Vance was standing in the middle of the room, weaving shakily, now
grasping a letter opener in his right hand.
"Get the hell out of here." He started moving on the Russian,
brandishing the weapon, but stumbled and had to pause to collect his
"He drank half a bottle of tequila and went crazy." She was shouting in
Russian. "Do something!"
Igor nodded knowingly. He came from a land where alcoholism easily
edged out soccer as the national pastime.
"What is problem?" The hulking Soviet moved forward, gingerly trying to
retrieve the letter opener from Vance's hand.
"Get away from me." Vance shoved him off, then stumbled back.
"No, you must give me knife," the Russian demanded. "We want no
Nobody noticed, but the time was 10:30. Exactly.
The room was brought up sharp by the sound of the door slamming and a
click of the lock. They turned to see a figure wearing a black ski mask
and the uniform of a Strand Palace security guard. In his right hand
was a 9mm automatic.
"Who the hell . . . ?" Vance yelled drunkenly.
Igor whirled to stare. His hand started for his shoulder holster, but
then he thought better of it and instead he backed slowly against the
wall, silently glaring.
"Where is it?" the hooded figure demanded as he brandished his pistol
"Fuck you, whoever you are." Vance tried to move toward him, still
grasping the letter opener.
"Shut up." The intruder shoved him backward, sending him sprawling onto
the couch. Then he turned to Eva. "Where's the computer?"
Almost at that moment he saw it, on the writing table by the window.
Without waiting for an answer, he moved quickly and seized it by the
handle. After he'd stationed it next to the door, he waved the weapon
at Eva again and barked. "Get your things. And all copies of the
"Listen, you son of a bitch," Vance sputtered as he drew himself up and
moved again on the intruder. "She's not going anywhere. Now get out of
here before I ram that goddam - "
The intruder slammed the pistol across his face, sending him crumpling
to the floor. But now his back was turned to Igor Borisovich, who
The intruder saw the movement, reflected in the tall mirror above the
dressing table. He easily sidestepped the lumbering Russian, then
brought the pistol hard against his skull. Igor Borisovich groaned and
staggered sideways flailing for balance.
The hooded figure seemed prepared. His hand plunged into a pocket and
out came a bottle whose stopper had been replaced by a wadded rag. He
flung the contents of the bottle across the Russian's face, then shoved
the soaking rag against his mouth and nostrils.
Igor Borisovich struggled and clawed limply at his face for a few
moments before lapsing unconscious.
"You fucker." Vance pulled himself up off the floor, muttering.
"Problem?" The intruder glanced at him.
"One small one, yeah. You damned near broke my jaw."
"This is the theater of the real, my friend," Alex Novosty laughed as
he pulled off the ski mask. "If you're going to be kidnapped, it has to
look authentic. I'm a professional. I never do these things by halves."
"Any problem downstairs?" Eva was already collecting her scant
"Yes, one very big problem. I had a small misunderstanding with one of
the hotel's security people. The natives here are not friendly. He's on
the service elevator now, sound asleep like this one."
"Where did you park it?" She opened the room door and looked up and
down the hall.
"It should still be on this floor. I put it on Emergency Stop. But he's
going to wake up any time now and sound the alarm."
"Then we've got to finish here and get out fast." She slammed the door
and turned back.
They went to work, quickly turning over chairs, ripping curtains,
leaving evidence of a violent struggle. Belongings were strewn across
the bed and floor, as though there'd been a hasty search. It was done
quietly and efficiently and took about a minute. Novosty thoughtfully
positioned his black ski mask in the middle of the floor, just one more
clue in what they hoped would be signs of an abrupt, forced departure.
Then they grabbed what they needed, including the
Zenith Turbo, locked the door, and made their way down the hallway. The
Strand Palace security guard was still on the service elevator,
unconscious but beginning to stir.
"What do you propose we do with him?" Novosty gave the Irishman a
"How about a little more ether," Eva suggested. She was clasping the
Zenith next to her. "And then let's get out of here."
He obligingly gave the man a final dose from the almost- empty bottle,
leaving the rag across his face. By the time he finished, the elevator
had reached the service area in the basement. Their Soviet limousine
was parked in the alley, ready. In seconds they were in it and gone.
Tuesday 10:43 P.M.
Michael Vance, Eva Borodin, and Aleksei Novosty were luckier than they
knew. When they emerged, the Japanese guard Jiro Sato had stationed at
the Burleigh entrance had momentarily been called away by radio to
confer at the Strand corner. Since the alleyway was curved slightly, as
London alleys invariably are, the huddled Yakuza team saw nothing but
the tinted windows of a limousine with diplomatic license plates
speeding past. They paid it no heed.
Watches were checked one more time, and then the dark-suited men fanned
out. The guard stationed down Burleigh returned to his post, while the
five who had been in the Docklands office made their way into the
teeming lobby on the Strand. While two started up the fire stairs, the
other three converged on the KGB guard, disarmed him discreetly, and
then informed him that he had pressing business outside. He was shoved
into one of the waiting Fords, gagged, and handcuffed to the steering
column. It took less than a minute to neutralize him.
Then the three returned to the lobby and got on the elevator. On the
eighth floor they met the other two, who had come in from the stairway
at the opposite end of the hall. Together they swept the corridors.
The KGB guard was nowhere to be seen.
"Perhaps they pulled the security on this floor," one of them said.
"Or he has gone into the room, to piss out some vodka," another
"This will be easier than we thought," a third was heard to observe.
Together they converged on the room registered in the name of Michael
Vance, and then they stood aside as one knocked.
When there was no answer, they elected to shoulder it in.
As they rushed the room, they were met by a fusillade of automatic
pistol fire from a boiling mad KGB security agent, nursing a headache
and crouched just inside the bathroom door.
Wednesday 1:09 A.M.
"Darling, do you think they'll figure out it was a ruse?"
"Who knows." He looked up from stoking the fireplace, where nothing but
embers remained. "Tanzan Mino may be a genius, but the rest of his
Yakuza hoods are not exactly rocket scientists. Ditto T-Directorate's
flunkies. With any luck both sides will think the other one's kidnapped
us and they'll go after each other. That's the idea at least."
"Well, we're pretty vulnerable." She kicked off her shoes and leaned
back on the couch.
"Look, after tomorrow Tanzan Mino won't dare send his goons after us .
. . unless he's got something up his sleeve we don't know about."
"That's just it,"she sighed. "If he manages to find us . . . why mince
words, if he decides to try and kill us again, what then? Will this
Japanese banker friend of yours stick with us? Whose side is he on, I
"Well, we're here, aren't we? Nobody knows about this place, not even
They had ditched Novosty three blocks down the Strand. Trust had its
"Except, of course, your Japanese banker friend. He knows."
"The only player we can rely on now is Ken. And he's the only one -
particularly after Novosty gets his money - who's got the slightest
incentive to hang tough."
"I'm wondering what's the best way to break the story. We've got to
make sure it doesn't get away from us, get lost."
He looked up from the fireplace. "I've already told you what I think. I
say we just go see an editor friend of mine at the Financial Times,
give him a big scoop concerning a forthcoming Mino Industries Eurobond
offering. We point out there's no collateral at all behind the
debentures, and we'll also hint there's more to it, but that angle we
save for The Times of London, which will get a nicely translated copy
of the protocol. We hit the godfather with a one-two press expose, then
make ourselves scarce and let investigative journalism do its thing.
Believe me, nobody's going to ignore what could be the biggest story of
the decade. After that starts snowballing, Tanzan Mino'll have too much
on his plate to bother eating us. We'll be out of it."
"Michael," she sighed, "you're a dreamer. You don't really think it's
going to be that easy."
He rose and joined her on the couch, slipping his arm around her
shoulders. "Maybe not, but we won't be a sitting target. We'll keep on
the move. Why don't you come and join me on the boat. I may have to
postpone visiting with the Stuttgart team down at Phaistos, but we'll
find something. It'll be simple."
"Sounds really simple."
"All great ideas are basically that way."
"Well, if life's as simple as you make out, then why did you insist on
Alex's friends at the Soviet embassy lending you that thing?" She
pointed to the black leather satchel stationed next to the fireplace.
"Guess I'm nervous." He grinned weakly.
"You mean you're scared. Cut the bull. I'm scared too." She got up,
walked over and picked up the leather bag. "Now, I want you to show me
how to work this."
"What?" He didn't like the idea. "You sure?"
"Absolutely. We're in this together." She settled the bag down on the
carpet, unzipped the top, and drew out an object whose black matte-
satin finish glistened in the soft glow of the coals. "This is an Uzi,
"The tried and true. Major Uziel Gal's contribution to the mayhem of
the world." He reached over and took it. "You know, this is an
instrument of sudden death. Do you really want your finger on the
"Sweetheart, just tell me what I need to know." She met his gaze.
"Okay, here goes." He still hated the thought, for a lot of reasons.
The mere sight of an Uzi reminded him of things in the past he
preferred to forget. But there clearly was no stopping her. "A quick
run-through of the care and feeding of your classic assault machine."
"Good." She reached and took it, tugging at the collapsed metal stock a
second before turning back to him. "By the way, is it loaded?"
"No, but it probably should be. You can take care of that yourself in
just a second. But first things first." He pointed down. "See this
thumb button right here, on the left top of the grip? Notice there're
three positions - all the way back is the safety, next is semiautomatic
fire, and all the way forward is full-auto. There's also a backup
safety here, at the top rear of the pistol grip. The action stays
locked unless it's depressed, which happens when you squeeze down to
deliver a round."
"Don't knock it. This baby fires ten rounds a second on full-auto.
We've only got five magazines."
"How many rounds in a magazine?"
"I insisted on the enlarged thirty-two-round version instead of the
usual twenty-five. But still, with that little button forward on full-
auto you can empty a magazine in about three seconds. It's a good way
to get the attention of everybody in the room."
"Can you actually hold your aim in full-auto?"
"Well enough. The recoil's surprisingly minimal. Remember to fire in
short bursts and you'll do okay." He pointed down. "Now, the cocking
handle is this knurled knob here on the top. Notice it's got a slot cut
in it so it doesn't block the sights. You yank it back to ready it. And
don't forget, always use your left hand to cock the action and change
magazines, and your right to operate the safety-selector switch."
"Okay, now you're ready to load." He picked one of the black
rectangular metal cases out of the leather satchel on the floor. "This
is a charged magazine. Always cock the action and set the thumb switch
to safety before you insert one."
She pulled the knob back firmly, then pushed her thumb against the
"Now feed the magazine into the bottom of the pistol grip"
She shoved it in with a click and it was secured.
"You're ready to party. Thumb off the safety and it's a go project."
"How do you take the magazine out when it's empty?" She aimed into the
fireplace. For a second he thought she was going to take out a few
"There's a release catch on the bottom left side of the pistol grip.
Just depress it."
"And what about the stock? Should I bother?"
He reached and took it back. "You push the butt downward to release it,
and then you pull it back like this till it's fully extended and
locks." He clicked it into place, a hard sound in the silence of the
London night. "To retract it you just depress this locking button here
on the left front and fold it back under again."
"Okay, let me try," she said, taking it back. She folded and unfolded
it twice. "Think I've got the hang of it. But do I need it?"
"Use it if you want to. I've always thought that when they switched
over from the original wooden stock to this metal contraption they
positioned the damned thing too high. You have to bend your head down
low to align the sights. My guess is, God forbid you should ever have
to use this, you won't have time to bother with it."
"Speaking of aiming, is this what I think it is?" She retrieved a small
boxlike object from the bag.
"LS-45 compact laser sight. Probably useless for our purposes, but I
figured, what the hell." He reached out for her hand. "For now let's
just think of all this hardware as life insurance. Something you'd as
soon never use." He took the gun and laid it on the tea trolley. "In
the meantime why don't we have one last nightcap and go on up to bed?"
"Thought you'd never ask." She kissed him, deeply.
The four-poster upstairs was canopied, the mattress downy as a cloud.
They were both hungry for each other, exhausted but deliriously free.
Perhaps it was the same relish with which a condemned prisoner consumes
his last meal, the delight in every taste, every nuance. If tomorrow
brings the prospect of death, then how much sweeter is life in the
short hours before dawn.
Wednesday 2:00 A.M.
Kenji Nogami wandered alone through the bond-trading floor of
Westminster Union Bank, staring at the blank computer screens. His bank
was a member of Globex, a twenty-four-hour world-wide trading network
for currency futures, but tonight he'd ordered all his traders to
square their positions - neither short nor long - and take the night off.
Then he had dismissed the cleaning crew. He wanted to have the space
entirely to himself, to think and to reflect. Time was growing short.
He settled in one of the traders' empty chairs, withdrew a
stubby Cuban Montecristo, a thick No. 2, from the breast pocket of his
coat, clipped the pointed end with a monogrammed implement, and swept a
wooden match against the floor and up to the tip with a single gesture.
If we're going to have a showdown, he thought, I might as well die with
a good cigar in hand.
Then from another pocket he took out the telex from Tokyo that had come
through just after midnight. The Tokyo _oyabun _was in a rare frenzy.
Tanzan Mino had never been thwarted like this - well, only once before,
when a certain Michael Vance, Jr., had blown the whistle on his CIA
Tanzan Mino was demanding compliance. Somebody had to give in. The
obvious question: Who'd be the first to blink?
The worst he can do is kill me, Nogami thought. And he can't do that
yet. If something happens to me tonight, he won't get his hundred
But then what?
You've gone this far knowing full well the consequences, he told
himself, so don't back down now. You're spitting on giri, and yet . . .
and yet it's the first thing you've ever done in your life that's made
you feel free. It's exhilarating.
Did Michael arrive safely at the South Kensington flat? He'd toyed with
the idea of calling but had decided against it. They wouldn't answer
the phone. In fact, he never answered it himself when he was there.
Thinking about it now, he wondered why he'd ever bothered to have one
installed in the first place.
He drew on the Montecristo, then studied its perfect ash. Waiting.
"Nogami-san, _sumimasen_," the voice sounded down the empty room,
almost an echo.
They'd arrived. Finally. Why had it taken so long?
"_Kombanwa_," he replied without moving. The cigar remained poised
above his head as he continued to examine it. "It is an honor to see
There was no reply, only the sound of footsteps approaching.
He revolved in his chair to see Jiro Sato, flanked by two of his
"I see you are working late," Jiro Sato said, examining the cigar as he
nodded a stiff, formal greeting. "I deeply apologize for this
"I was expecting you," Nogami replied, nodding back. "Please allow me
to make tea."
"Thank you but it is not required." Jiro Sato stood before him, gray
sunglasses glistening in the fluorescents. "One of my _kobun _was shot
and killed tonight, Nogami-san, and two more wounded. I want to know
where to find Vance and the woman. Now."
"Were they responsible?"
"With deepest apologies, that need not trouble you." He stood ramrod
"With deepest apologies, Sato-sama, it troubles me very much." Nogami
examined his cigar. "This entire affair is very troublesome. In times
past I remember a certain prejudice in favor of civility on the part of
Tokyo. Have things really changed that much?"
"The moment for soft words is past. Tonight ended that."
Nogami drew on his cigar. "Assuming you locate Vance, what action do
you propose taking?"
"We have one last chance here to deal with this problem. Tomorrow the
_oyabun's_ people arrive, and then they will be in control. The
decisions will no longer be ours. Tonight I attempted to salvage the
situation and failed. Surely you know what that means, for us both. But
if you will give me Vance, perhaps we can both still be saved. If you
refuse to cooperate, the _oyabun _will destroy you as well as Vance. We
both know that. I am offering you a way out."
"With deepest gratitude, I must tell you it is too late, Sato-sama,
which I am sure you realize," Nogami said, drawing on his cigar and
taking care not to disturb the ash. "So with due respect I must inquire
concerning the purpose of this meeting."
"I need to locate this man Vance. Before the _kobun _from Tokyo arrive.
If you care about his well-being, then you should remember that his
treatment at my hands will be more understanding than - "
"When do they arrive?"
"As I said, we received word that they will be here tomorrow, Nogami-
san. With respect, you have befriended a man who is attempting to
blackmail the Tokyo _oyabun_. That is a career decision which, I assure
you, is most unwise."
"It is made. And I am aware of the consequences. So it would appear we
both know all there is to know about the future."
"Perhaps not entirely. Someone has attempted to make us think Vance and
the woman were kidnapped, that they are being held somewhere beyond our
reach. Perhaps it is true, perhaps it is not. But if the transaction
for the hundred million is to take place tomorrow, then he must appear
here. The _oyabun's _people may be here by then. If they are not, we
"But if he has been kidnapped," Nogami's brow furrowed as he studied
his cigar, its ash still growing, "then there could be a problem with
the transaction. Who do you suppose would want him, besides the Tokyo
"That I could not speculate upon. The KGB seems to have a great
interest in his activities. Perhaps they are guarding him in some more
secure place. Or perhaps something else has happened." He bowed. "Again
you must forgive me for this rude intrusion. It is important for you to
be aware that the situation is not resolved. That you still have a
chance to save yourself."
"The CEO will receive his hundred million, if there is no interference.
That much I have already arranged for. When that is completed, I will
consider my responsibilities discharged."
"Your responsibilities will never be discharged, Nogami-san. _Giri
_lasts forever." His voice was cutting. "The sooner you realize that,
"After tomorrow, it will be over, Sato-sama." He stretched out his arm
and tapped the inch-long ash into a trash basket beside the desk.
"Tomorrow," Jiro Sato bowed, "it only begins."
Wednesday 2:25 A.M.
_Yuri Andreevich Androv stood facing the bulkhead that sealed the
forward avionics bays, feeling almost as though he were looking at a
bank vault. As in all high-security facilities, the access doors were
Since the final retrofits were now completed, the Japanese maintenance
crews were only working two shifts; nobody was around at this hour
except the security guards. He'd told them he'd thought of something
and wanted to go up and take a look at the heavy-duty EN-15 turbo
pumps, which transferred hydrogen to the scramjets after it was
converted from liquid to gaseous phase for combustion. He'd been
worrying about their pulse rating and couldn't sleep.
He'd gone on to explain that although static testing had shown they
would achieve operating pressure in twenty milliseconds if they were
fully primed in advance, that was static testing, not flight testing,
and he'd been unable to sleep wondering about the adhesive around the
It was just technical mumbo-jumbo, although maybe he should be checking
them, he thought grimly. But he trusted the engineering team. He had
to. Besides, the pumps had been developed specially for the massive
Energia booster, and they'd functioned flawlessly in routine launchings
of those vehicles at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Of course, at Baikonur they always were initiated while the Energia was
on the launch pad, at full atmospheric pressure. On the _Daedalus_
they'd have to be powered in during flight, at sixty thousand feet and
2,700 miles per hour. But still . . .
The late-night security team had listened sympathetically. They had no
objection if Androv wanted to roll a stair-truck under the fuselage of
_Daedalus /, _then climb into the underbay and inspect turbo pumps in
the dead of night. Everybody knew he was eccentric. No, make that
insane. You'd have to be to want to ride a rocket. They'd just waved
him in. After all, the classified avionics in the forward bays were
He smiled grimly to think that he'd been absolutely right. Hangar
Control was getting lax about security in these waning days before the
big test. It always happened after a few months of mechanics trooping
in and out.
That also explained why he now had a full set of magnetic access cards
for all the sealed forward bays. Just as he'd figured, the mechanics
were now leaving them stuffed in the pockets of the coveralls they kept
in their lockers in the changing room.
Time to get started.
There was, naturally, double security, with a massive airlock port
opening onto a pressure bay, where three more secure ports sealed the
avionics bays themselves. The airlock port was like an airplane door,
double reinforced to withstand the near vacuum of space, and in the
center was a green metallic slot for a magnetic card.
He began trying cards, slipping them into the slot. The first, the
second, the third, the fourth, and then, payoff. The three green diodes
above the lock handle flashed.
He quickly shoved down the grip and pushed. The door eased inward, then
rotated to the side, opening onto the pressure bay.
The temperature inside was a constant 5 degrees Celsius, kept just