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"The only problem he solved was yours," she shot back. "Mr. Vance
devised what amounts to an enormous check kiting scheme. You two
planned to perpetrate fraud. You're nothing better than criminals, both
of you, and I intend to make sure you haven't also given us a short
count."

"Comrade, fraud is a harsh word," Vance interjected.

"You are not as amusing as you think," she replied.

"Humor makes the world go round."

'This is not a joke. The negotiable instruments in this room are Soviet
funds. I intend to make sure those funds are intact. There will be a
full and complete count. Now."

She's gone over the edge, he told himself. She's definitely going to
try and screw us, either wittingly or unwittingly. But who in the room
is going to help her? That huddled group of Russian bankers now staring
terrified at Novosty's 9mm? Not damned likely. She's improvising, on
her own. But her little stunt could well end up sinking the ship.

The two couriers were now spread against the brown textured fabric of
the wall, legs apart. He walked over and reached into the leather
holsters at their hips, drawing out their revolvers. They were snub-
nosed Smith & Wesson Bodyguards, .38 caliber. He looked them over,
cocked them, and handed one to Eva.

"How about covering the door? I think it's time we got down to business
and traded some bonds."

"With pleasure." She stepped over and glanced out. It was clear.

"What do you think, Alex?" Vance turned back. "Word's going around
there's a hot new issue of Mino Industries zero-coupons coming out
today. What do you say we go long? In for a hundred. Just take the
lot."

"I heard the same rumor, this very morning," he smiled. "You're right.
My instincts say it's a definite buy."

"Fine." Vance turned to MNB's jowled branch chief. "We'd like to do a
little trading here this morning. Mind getting the bond desk at
Westminster Union on the line? Tell Nogami we're good for a hundred in
Mino Industries debentures, the new issue. At par."

"Michael." It was Eva's voice, suddenly alarmed.

"What?"

"We've got company. They look like field reps."

"Good God." Novosty strode to the door and looked out. A group of four
leather-jacketed Japanese were headed down the hallway, two disarmed
MNB guards in front. Also with them was Kenji Nogami.

Turning back, he looked imploringly at Vance. "What do we do?"

"Figure they came prepared." He waved toward Eva. "Better lose that
.38. Put it on the table for now. Maybe we can still talk this thing
through."

She nodded, then stepped over and laid her weapon beside the bundles of
securities. Vance took one last look at the Smith & Wesson in his own
hand and did the same. Even ex-archaeologists could do arithmetic.

All this time Vera Karanova had said nothing. She merely stood watching
the proceedings with a detached smile. Finally she spoke. "Now we can
proceed with the counting," she said calmly.

"Maybe you don't fully grasp the situation here, comrade." Vance stared
at her. "Those gorillas aren't dropping in for tea. We've got to stand
together."

She burst out laughing. "Mr. Vance, you are truly naive. No, you're
worse. You actually thought you could sabotage the most powerful new
global alliance of the twentieth century." Her dark eyes were gradually
turning glacial. "It will not be allowed to happen, believe me."

My God, he realized, that's why she wanted to get her hands on the
protocol. To deep-six it. She's been biding her time, stringing us
along. And today she managed to stall us long enough for Mino's boys to
figure out the switch. She's no longer working for T-Directorate; she's
part of Tanzan Mino's operation. All this time she's been working with
them.

"The negotiable certificates in this room will be delivered to their
rightful recipient by his personal jet," she continued. "Today."

"Over my dead body." He found himself thinking it might well be true.

"No, Mr. Vance, not exactly. Your contribution will be more substantial
than that."

He was speechless, for the first time.

The Russian bankers in the room were taken totally by surprise. Double-
dealing KGB games had always been part of the landscape, but this was
confusing in the extreme. Whose money was it anyway?

"Michael." Novosty's voice was trembling. "This cannot be allowed to
happen."

"I agree. We've definitely got a situation here."

He glanced around to see the four _Mino-gumi kobun _poised in the
doorway, all with H&K automatics now out of their briefcases. Kenji
Nogami was standing behind them, his eyes defeated.

Novosty still looked stunned. The range of options was rapidly
narrowing to none.

Vera indicated his Ruger. "You would be wise to put that away. Now."

"If they take these securities, my life's not worth a _kopeck_."
Novosty seemed to be thinking out loud. "What does it matter."

It wasn't a question. It was a statement.

Remembering it all later, Vance could barely recall the precise
sequence of events. He did remember shoving Eva back against the wall
as the fireworks began.

Novosty's first round caught the lead _Mino-gumi kobun_ squarely
between the eyes. As he pitched backward, arms flailing, he tumbled
against the others, giving Novosty time to fire again. With deadly
accuracy he caught another in the chest.

Kenji Nogami had already thrown himself on the thick hallway carpet,
safely avoiding the fusillade. The Russian bankers, too, had all hit
the floor, along with the MNB guards and the two couriers.

Then came a shot with a different sound - the dull thunk of a silencer.
Novosty jerked in surprise, pain spreading through his eyes. The
silencer thunked again, and again.

It was Vera Karanova. She was holding a small .22 caliber Walther PP,
with a specially equipped silencer. And her aim was flawless. Novosty
had three slugs arranged neatly down the side of his head before he
even realized what was happening. He collapsed forward, never knowing
whose hand had been on the gun.

She's probably wanted to get rid of him for years, Vance thought
fleetingly. She finally got her golden opportunity, the double-crossing
bitch.

He briefly considered grabbing back one of the .38's and avenging Alex
then and there, but he knew it would be suicidal.

"Alex, no!" Eva's voice sobbed.

"Both of you, hands on the wall." Comrade Karanova was definitely in
charge.

"Michael," Eva said, turning to comply, "what happened to our well-laid
plans?"

"Looks like too little, too late." He stretched beside her.

"What did she mean just now? About our 'contribution'?"

"Probably the protocol. My guess is she wants to see it destroyed.
Let's hope that'll be the end of it. The godfather's got his money. And
Alex's problem is solved permanently."

Now Kenji Nogami was entering the room, an island of Zen-like calm
amidst all the bedlam.

"Michael, I'm so sorry." He stepped over. "When the money didn't show
up as scheduled, they called Jiro Sato and he suggested they try here.
There was nothing I could do."

Vance nodded. "That's how I figured it'd be played. We didn't move fast
enough on this end. It was my fault."

"Too bad. We came close." He sighed. "But I'm not going to underwrite
the rest of those bogus debentures. He'll have to kill me."

"And he'll probably do just that. The hell with it. You tried, we all
tried. Now it looks like Tanzan Mino's scam is going to go through
whether we play or not. You might as well save your own skin. With any
luck, we can still sort out our end, but you - you're going to have to be
dealing with that bastard for years to come. Think about it."

"I'm still deciding," he said finally. "Let's wait and see how things
go."

"Alex opted for suicide. You shouldn't follow his lead."

"I'm not suicidal." He stepped back as Vera proceeded to pat them down.
"I think very carefully about my options."

"Get the money." She was directing the two remaining _Mino-gumi kobun
_toward the table.

"Gonna just rob the bank now, Comrade?" Vance turned and looked at her,
then at the three bodies strewn on the floor. The _kobun _seemed to
consider their late colleagues merely casualties of war. The dead men
received almost no notice. "Pretty costly little enterprise, wouldn't
you say. Not a very propitious start for your new era of world
serenity."

"You would be advised to shut up," she responded sharply.

"I feel personally violated by all this." Nogami had turned to her and
his voice was like steel. "As of this moment, you can put out of your
mind any illusion I might cooperate further. This outrage is beyond
acceptability."

"We did what had to be done," Vera said. "We still expect your
cooperation and I do not think we will be disappointed."

"Then your expectation is sadly misplaced," he replied icily. His eyes
signified he meant every word.

"We will see." She dismissed him as she turned her attention to the
money. The two _kobun_ had carefully removed their shiny black leather
jackets now and laid them on the table. Underneath they wore tightly
tailored white shirts, complete with underarm holsters containing 9mm
Llamas. The automatics were back in their briefcases, positioned by the
door. Stripped down for action, they were quickly and professionally
tallying the certificates, one handling the open cashiers checks and
the other the bearer bonds.

Guess they intend to keep a close eye on the details, Vance thought.

Well, screw them. We've still got the protocol. We've got some leverage
left.

But he was having trouble focusing on the future. He was still in shock
from the sight of Novosty being gunned down in cold blood. Alex's
abrupt death was a tragic end to an exceptional, if sometimes dubious,
career. He'd really wanted Novosty to make this one last score. The man
deserved it. He was an operator who lived at the edge, and Vance had
always admired players who put everything on the table, no matter which
side.

Well, he told himself, the scenario had come close, damned close. But
maybe it was doomed from the start. You only get so many chances to
tempt the fates. Today everybody's number came up, Alex's for the last
time.

Rest in peace, Aleksei Ilyich.

Then Vera turned back to them. "Now, I want the computer. We know it
was moved to the house in Kensington, but our search this morning did
not locate it."

So they were on to us from the start, Vance realized.

"Looks like you've got a problem." He strolled over and plopped down in
one of the straight-backed chairs along the opposite wall. "Too bad."

"No, you have a problem." She examined him confidently. "Because if
those materials are not returned to us, we will be forced to take
actions you may find harsh."

"Give it your best shot," he went on, glancing at Eva and hoping they
could keep up the bravado, "because we've got a few cards in our hand
too. Forget the money - that's history now - but we could still be in a
position to blow your whole project sky high."

"You two are the only ones outside our organization who know about the
protocol. That knowledge will not be allowed to go any farther."

"Don't be so sure. For all you know, we've already stashed a copy
somewhere. Left word that if anything happens to either one of us, the
package gets sent to the papers. Made public. Think what some premature
headlines would do for your little project."

"We have thought about it, Mr. Vance. That contingency has been
covered."

"Well, if I don't know what the other player's got, I tend to trust my
own cards."

But why play at all? he suddenly found himself musing. Fold this hand
and go for the next move.

Before leaving Crete he'd transmitted a copy of the protocol, still in
its encrypted form, to his office computer in Nassau. At the time it'd
merely seemed like prudence; now it might turn out to be a lifeline.
One phone call and it could be transmitted back here this very
afternoon. The magic of satellites in space. Knock out another quick
translation and they'd only have lost one day. What the hell. Use that
as a fallback position. Time, that's all it would take, just a little
more time.

"But what does it matter? The game's up anyway." He nodded toward Vera,
then turned to Eva, sending her a pointed signal.

"What was it Shakespeare said about discretion and valor," she
concurred, understanding exactly what he was thinking.

"The man knew when to fish and when to cut bait."

"True enough. Shall you tell them or shall I?"

"You can do the honors."

She walked over and picked up her briefcase. "You didn't really think
we'd leave it, did you, Comrade? So just take it and good riddance. A
little gift from the NSA. Who says America's getting stingy with its
foreign aid?"

Comrade Karanova motioned for the two _kobun _to take the case. "See if
it's there."

As they moved to comply, Vance found himself wondering if this really
was going to turn off the heat. Somehow it no longer seemed adequate.

"_Hai so_," he grunted through his teeth as he lifted it, "something is
here." Vance noticed that two digits of the little finger on his left
hand were missing, along with another digit on his ring finger. Good
thing Ken was never a street man, he thought fleetingly. Guess bankers
get to pay for their mistakes with something besides sections of fin-
ger.

"Then take it out," Vera commanded. "We are running out of time."

You've got that right, lady, Vance thought. Three men were just killed.
That personal Boeing of Tanzan Mino's better be warming up its Pratt &
Whitney's right now. London's about to get too hot for you.

One of the _kobun _withdrew the Zenith. He placed it on the mahogany
table, then unlatched the top and lifted it up, only to stare at the
blank gray screen, unsure what he was supposed to do next.

Vera knew. She reached for the switch on the side and clicked it on,
then stood back and turned to Eva.

"Call up the file. I want to see if you have really broken the
encryption, the way you said."

"Truth time," she laughed, then punched up the translation.

_Project Daedalus_.

And there it was.

Comrade Karanova studied it a moment, as though not quite believing her
eyes. But she plainly had seen it before. "Congratulations. We were
sure no one would be able to break the encryption, not even you." She
glanced around. "You are very clever."

"Okay," Vance interjected, "I'm sure we all have better things to do
this morning. So why don't you take the damned thing and get out of
here. It's what you wanted. Just go and we'll all try and forget any of
this ever happened."

She flipped down the computer's screen, then turned back.
"Unfortunately nothing is ever that simple. I'm sorry to have to tell
you two that we haven't seen the last of each other." She paused, then
continued. "In fact, we are about to become much better acquainted."

"What do you mean?"

"You once told me, back when we met on the plane from Athens, you would
welcome that. You should be happy that your wish is now about to be
granted. You both are going to be our guests."

"That's kind of you." He stared at her, startled. "But we can probably
bear up to the separation."

"No, I must insist. You were right about the difficulties. Your death
now would be awkward, for a number of reasons. Alex will be trouble
enough to explain, but that is purely an internal Soviet matter. Moscow
Narodny can cover it. However, eliminating you two would raise awkward
inquiries. On the other hand, you represent a security risk to the
project. Consequently we have no option. Surely you understand."

He understood all too well. This was the one turn he hadn't figured on.

Almost eight years. It had been that long ago. But what had Ken said?
The Tokyo _oyabun _never forgot. What this really meant was that Tanzan
Mino wanted to settle the score first hand. What did he have planned?

Vance had a sudden feeling he didn't want to know. It was going to be a
zero-sum game. Everything on the table and winner take all.

The Uzi. The goddam Uzi. Why hadn't they brought it?

It was still back in Kensington, where they'd stashed it in the false
bottom of a new suitcase. But if the _Mino-gumi_ had been searching
only for a computer, maybe they'd missed it. So Tanzan Mino's hoods
could still be in for a surprise. Just make an excuse to go back.

Vera was aware an Uzi had been part of their deal for the limo, but
maybe that fact had momentarily slipped her mind, what with all the
important things she had to think about. Or maybe she'd assumed Alex
had kept it, or maybe she thought it was still in the car. Whatever she
thought, things were moving too fast now.

"I get the picture," he said, rising from his chair. With a

carefully feigned nonchalance, he strolled over to the table. "Guess
it's time we got our toothbrushes."

"You won't have to bother, Mr. Vance," Vera continued. "Your suitcases
were sent to the plane an hour ago. We found them conveniently packed.
Don't worry. Everything has already been taken care of."

Okay, scratch the Uzi. Looks like it's now or never. Settle it here.

He shot a glance at Eva, then at Ken, trying to signal them. They
caught it, and they knew. She began strolling in the direction of Vera,
who was now standing in the doorway, as though readying to depart.

"We appreciate the snappy service," Vance said. He looked down at the
computer, then bent over. When he came up, it was in his right hand,
sailing in an arc. He brought it around with all his might, aimed for
the nearest Japanese _kobun_. He was on target, catching the man
squarely in the stomach.

With a startled, disbelieving look the Japanese stumbled backward,
crashing over a large chair positioned next to the table. The other
_kobun_ instantly reached for his holstered Llama, but by then Kenji
Nogami had moved, seizing him and momentarily pinning his arms with a
powerful embrace.

For her own part, Eva had lunged for Vera and her purse, to neutralize
the Walther she carried. Comrade Karanova, however, had already
anticipated everything. She whisked back the purse, then plunged her
hand in. What she withdrew, though, was not a pistol but a shiny
cylindrical object made of glass.

It was three against three, a snapshot of desperation.

We've got a chance, Vance thought. Keep him down. And get the Llama.

As the _kobun_ tried to rise, gasping, Vance threw himself over the
upturned chair, reaching to pin the man's arms. With a bear-like
embrace he had him, the body small and muscular in his arms. Out of the
corner of his eye he saw Kenji Nogami still grappling with the other
_kobun_. The computer now lay on the floor, open and askew.

Where's Eva? He tried to turn and look for her, but there was no sound
to guide him. Then the _kobun_ wrenched free one arm and brought a fist
against the side of his face, diverting him back to matters at hand.

Hold him down. Just get the gun.

He tried to crush his larger frame against the other's slim body,
forcing the air out of him. Focus.

But the wiry man was stronger than he looked. With a twist he rolled
over and pinned Vance's shoulders against the carpet. Vance felt the
shag, soft against his skin, and couldn't believe how chilly it felt.
But now he had his hand on the _kobun's_ throat, holding him in a
powerful grip while jamming a free elbow against the holster.

Cut off his oxygen. Don't let him breathe.

The old moves were coming back, the shortcuts that would bring a more
powerful opponent to submission. He pressed a thumb against the man's
windpipe, shutting off his air. A look of surprise went through the
_kobun's_ eyes as he choked, letting his hold on Vance's shoulders
slacken.

Now.

He shoved the man's arm aside and reached for the holster. Then his
hand closed around the hard grip of the Llama. The Japanese was weaker
now, but still forcing his arm away from the gun, preventing him from
getting the grip he needed.

He rammed an elbow against the man's chin, then tightened his finger on
the grip of the Llama. He almost had it.

With his other hand he shoved the _kobun_'s face away, clawing at his
eyes, and again they rolled over, with the Japanese once more against
the carpet. But now he had the gun and he was turning.

He felt a sharp jab in his back, a flash of pain that seemed to come
from nowhere. It was both intense and numbing, as though his spine had
been caught in a vise. Then he felt his heart constrict, his
orientation spin. He rolled to the side, flailing an arm to try and
recover his balance, but the room was in rotation, his vision playing
tricks.

The one thing he did see was Vera Karanova standing over him, a blurred
image his mind tried vainly to correct. Her face was faltering, the
indistinct outlines of a desert mirage. Was she real or was he merely
dreaming?

. . . Now the room was growing serene, a slow-motion phantasmagoria of
pastel colors and soft, muted sounds. He tried to reach out, but there
was nothing. Instead he heard faint music, dulcet beckoning tones. The
world had entered another dimension, a seamless void. He wanted to be
part of its emptiness, to swathe himself in the cascade of oblivion
lifting him up. A perfect repose was drifting through him, a wave of
darkness. He heard his own breathing as he was buoyed into a blood-red
mist. He was floating, on a journey he had long waited to take, to a
place far, far away. . . .







BOOK THREE



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN



Thursday 2:28 P.M.



"The hypersonic test flight must proceed as scheduled," Tanzan Mino
said quietly. "Now that all the financial arrangements have been
completed, the Coordinating Committee of the LDP has agreed to bring
the treaty before the Diet next week. A delay is unthinkable."

"The problem is not technical, Mino-sama," Taro Ikeda, the project
director, continued, his tone ripe with deference. "It is the Soviet
pilot. Perhaps he should be replaced." He looked down, searching for
the right words. "I'm concerned. I think he has discovered the stealth
capabilities of the vehicle. Probably accidentally, but all the same,
I'm convinced he is now aware of them. Two nights ago he engaged in
certain unauthorized maneuvers I believe were intended to verify those
capabilities."

"_So deshoo_." Tanzan Mino's eyes narrowed. "But he has said nothing?"

"No. Not a word. At least to me."

"Then perhaps he was merely behaving erratically. It would not be the
first time."

"The maneuvers. They were too explicit," Ikeda continued. "As I said,
two nights ago, on the last test fight, he switched off the
transponder, then performed a snap roll and took the vehicle into a
power dive, all the way to the deck. It was intended to be a radar-
evasive action." The project director allowed himself a faint, ironic
smile. "At least we now know that the technology works. The vehicle's
radar signature immediately disappeared off the tracking monitors at
Katsura."

"It met the specifications?"

Ikeda nodded. "Yesterday I ordered a computer analysis of the data
tapes. The preliminary report suggests it may even have exceeded them."

Tanzan Mino listened in silence. He was sitting at his desk in the
command sector wing of the North Quadrant at the Hokkaido facility.
Although the sector was underground, like the rest of the facility,
behind his desk was a twenty-foot-long "window" with periscope double
mirrors that showed the churning breakers of La Perouse Strait.

His jet had touched down on the facility's runway at 6:48 A.M. and been
promptly towed into the hangar. Tanzan Mino intended to be in personal
command when _Daedalus I_ went hypersonic, in just nineteen hours. The
video monitors in his office were hard-wired directly to the main
console in Flight Control, replicating its data displays, and all
decisions passed across his desk.

"Leave the pilot to me," he said without emotion, revolving to gaze out
the wide window, which displayed the mid-afternoon sun catching the
crests of whitecaps far at sea. "What he knows or doesn't know will not
disrupt the schedule."

Once again, he thought, I've got to handle a problem personally. Why?
Because nobody else here has the determination to make the scenario
succeed. First the protocol, and then the money. I had to intervene to
resolve both.

But, he reflected with a smile, it turned out that handling those
difficulties personally had produced an unexpected dividend.

"As you say, _Mino-sama_," Ikeda bowed. "I merely wanted to make you
aware of my concern about the pilot. He should be monitored more
closely from now on."

"Which is precisely what I intend to do." Tanzan Mino's silver hair



Online LibraryThomas HooverProject Daedalus → online text (page 22 of 30)