When Serge Litov was manhandled into the butcher’s van and the doors slammed shut, he was already in pain from the arm Henderson had broken.
But in his grim life one of the qualities he had been trained in was to endure pain and his mind was still clear as the van moved off.
He had been placed on a stretcher on a flat leather couch bolted to the floor on the left side of the van which was equipped rather like a crude ambulance inside. A man wearing a doctor’s face-mask loomed over Litov and by the aid of an overhead light examined the arm and then spoke in English.
“I am going to inject you with morphine to relieve the pain. Do you understand me?”
Litov glanced at the two other men in the van, sitting against the other side. They wore Balaclava masks, dark blue open-necked shirts and blue denim trousers. One of them held a machine-pistol across his lap. Two pairs of eyes stared coldly at Litov, who spoke English fluently, as he considered whether to reply in the same language, a decision which might influence his future vitally. It would conceal his true nationality.
“How do I know there is morphine in that hypodermic?” he asked.
“You are worried it is sodium pentothal to make you talk? As a professional man I would not do that — not to a man in your condition.”
The Englishman’s voice was gentle and there was something in the steady eyes watching him above the mask which made Litov against all his training trust the man.
“Also,” the doctor continued, ‘you have a flight ahead of you. Why not travel in comfort?”
As soon as he had been flopped onto the stretcher Litov’s undamaged left arm had been handcuffed at the wrist to one of the lifting poles.
Both ankles were similarly manacled and a leather strap bound his chest. He was quite helpless and waves of pain were threatening to send him under.
“I’ll take the needle,” Litov agreed, exaggerating the hoarseness in his voice. The doctor waited until the van paused, presumably at traffic lights, then swiftly dabbed the broken arm with antiseptic and inserted the hypodermic. When the van moved on again he waited for a smooth stretch of road and then set Litov’s arm and affixed splints.
Time went by, the van continued on its journey, speeding up now as though it had left the outskirts of the city behind. Litov was trying to estimate two factors as accurately as he could: the general direction the van was taking and its speed, which would allow him roughly to calculate the distance it covered.
Earlier there had been several stops, traffic light stops, but now they kept moving as along a major highway. He chose his moment carefully when the van paused and the trio on the opposite couch looked towards the front of the van as though there might be trouble. He glanced quickly down at his wrist-watch; something they had overlooked. Two o’clock.
As the vehicle started up again and his three captors relaxed, Litov half-closed his eyes and calculated they had roughly travelled two hundred kilometres, allowing for the van’s speed and twelve pauses.
They had to be a long way outside Brussels. West towards the coast?
They would have reached it long ago. South towards France? They would have crossed the border long before now which would have meant passing through a frontier control post and there had been nothing like that.
North towards Holland? The same objection. The frontier was too close for the distance travelled. Same applied to Germany which left only one direction and one area to account for the distance covered. South-east: deep into the Ardennes.
Following the same route, Beaurain had long since overtaken the van. He had by now passed through Namur where vertical cliffs fell to the banks of the river Meuse. At this hour there was hardly any other traffic and they seemed to glide through the darkness. Beyond Namur he drove through Marche-en-Famenne and Bastogne where the Germans and Americans had fought an epic battle during World War Two. The country they were travelling through now was remote, an area of high limestone ridges, gorges and dense forests.
“Jock,” Beaurain said as he slowed down to negotiate the winding road, ‘on the surface I was lucky back there in Brussels. Had Litov been just a second or two faster it would have been me you’d have carried inside that van.”
“We had it well-organised. You were quick yourself.”
“That motor-cycle, was it difficult to locate?”
“Not really, although we were looking for something like that. It was propped against an alley wall very close to that intersection.”
“I see.” Beaurain glanced at Henderson’s profile. His sandy hair was trimmed short, he was clean-shaven and his bone structure was strong. A firm mouth, a strong jaw and watchful eyes which took nothing for granted. Beaurain thought he had been lucky to recruit him when he had resigned from the SAS — although really it was the other way round since Henderson had left the Special Air Service to join Telescope. The bomb in Belfast which had killed the Scot’s fiancee had decided him to change the course of his life. He was by background, by training, the perfect man to control the key section they called The Gunners.
The radio-telephone buzzed and Beaurain picked up the receiver, driving with one hand. The telephone crackled and cleared.
“Alex Carder here,” a soft deliberate voice reported in French.
“Any news re delivery?”
“Benedict speaking,” Beaurain replied.
“Expect the cargo in thirty minutes. Have you the manifests ready?”
“Yes, sir,” Carder replied.
“We can despatch the cargo immediately on arrival. Especially now we have the time schedule. Goodbye.”
Beaurain replaced the receiver.
“The chopper’s ready as soon as Litov arrives. To make it work we need a swift, continuous movement.”
“I have been thinking about what you said in the rue des Bouchers. I think you’re right the Syndicate would leave someone close by.”
“Which means that by now they know we have Litov, so we have to work out how they will react to that news.”
“Something else worries me.” The Scot stirred restlessly in his seat.
“I didn’t mention it to you at the time because everything was happening so fast.”
“What is it?”
“The safety catch was still on when we took the Luger away from Litov.”
They were now well inside the Ardennes forest. The full moon oscillated like a giant torch between the palisade of pines lining the road. They hadn’t met another vehicle in twenty kilometres. Ahead, at a bend, the headlights shone on stone pillars, huge wrought-iron gates were thrown open. The scrolled lettering on a metal plaque attached to the left hand pillar read Chateau Wardin.
The Chateau Wardin this was where it had all started, Beaurain reflected, as he drove up the winding drive. The formation of Telescope. For three days after the burial of his wife he had remained inside his Brussels apartment, refusing to answer the doorbell or the phone, eating nothing, drinking only mineral water. At the end of the three days he had emerged, handed in his resignation as chief of the anti-terrorist squad and asked the owner of the Chateau Wardin for financial backing.
The Baron de Graer, president of the Banque du Nord and one of the richest men in Europe, had provided Beaurain with the equivalent of one million pounds. His late wife’s father, a London merchant banker, supplied the second million. But it was de Graer’s gift of the Chateau Wardin as well, which had provided the training ground for the gunners whom Henderson trained as Europe’s deadliest fighters.
Recruitment had been carried out with far greater care than by most so-called professional secret services seeking personnel. The motive had to be there: men and women who had suffered loss in the same way as Beaurain. Wives who had lost husbands in the twentieth-century carnage laughingly known as peacetime. Henderson had brought with him several Special Air Service men taking care the motive was never money. The Scot despised mercenaries.
Telescope had been involved in three major operations. At Rome airport it had shot four terrorists who had hijacked an Air France plane. No one had spotted Henderson’s snipers who escaped dressed as hospital orderlies in an ambulance. And Dusseldorf: a bank siege involving hostages. No one ever worked out how unidentified men wearing Balaclava-type helmets reached the first floor and then descended one flight to destroy the heavily-armed robbers with shin-grenades and machine-pistols. Vienna: a hijack with Armenian terrorists unidentified snipers operating at night had killed every Armenian and then disappeared like ghosts. But in each episode and many others the local police had found the same object left as a trademark. A telescope.
Most West European governments were hostile to this private organisation which achieved what they were unable to. But rather than risk the general public knowing of Telescope’s existence, they compromised allowing their own security forces to take responsibility for the events in Rome, Dusseldorf and Vienna.
“It would make the politicians look so stupid, Jules,” Rene Latour, head of French counterespionage, had explained when he was dining with his old friend Beaurain during a visit to Brussels.
“Do you remember that remark I once made to you about three years ago,” he continued.
“That the President regards me as his telescope because I take the long view?”
“No, I don’t remember,” Beaurain had lied.
“It came back to me when all our security services were holding a meeting about Telescope and wondering who could be the boss of such an outfit,” “Really,” Beaurain had replied, ignoring Latour’s searching glance and changing the subject.
Information. The Belgian had foreseen from the very beginning that the transmission of swift and secret information to his organisation was essential if it was to be able to act with the necessary speed and ruthlessness And in this direction only, money was used; large fees were paid to an elaborate network of spies in all branches of the media, in many branches of government, in many countries. And always they operated through two watertight cut-outs, phoning a telephone number where someone else called another number.
But it was the Chateau Wardin with its seclusion, its variety of terrain, its hidden airstrip and helipad, which was the key to Telescope. This was Beaurain’s main base.
As soon as the van drove in, the gates of Chateau Wardin were closed behind it. Litov was still awake. He was concentrating furiously, trying to make out what was happening, why there had been a slowing down in speed. Before the sudden almost right-angled swing at a sedate pace they had been travelling fairly fast along a road which had many bends. They had to be somewhere out in the country because he had not heard the sound of one other vehicle for a long time.
Also there were other indications that they might be nearing their destination a restless stirring among the guards; one of them came over to check his handcuffs and the strap; the doctor was putting his equipment away in a bag. The van was moving very slowly, turning round curves all the time, first this way and then that. Litov began to worry about the English doctor’s remark.
“You have a flight ahead of you, a trip by air…”
The directive given to Litov by Dr. Berlin personally had been clear and straightforward.
“You will be taken prisoner by the Telescope organisation who will then take you to their base for interrogation. It is the precise location of the base I need to know. Once you have discovered it, you use your many talents to escape. It does not matter how many of their people are killed. And when you are taken in Brussels they will definitely not kill you or injure you more than necessary…”
It was this last prediction which had not ceased to puzzle Litov, which had almost caused him to ask Berlin how he could possibly know that for sure; except that you did not ask Dr. Berlin questions. How could Berlin have known they would take trouble to preserve his life?
The van negotiated the bends of the sweeping drive lined with trees and dense shrubberies. Half a mile from the gates it swung round another bend, the drive straightened and the moon illuminated a large Burgundian-style chateau with a grey slate roof. The windows were long and crescent-shaped at the top and a flight of stone steps led up to a vast terrace.
The driver swung onto a track round the side of the chateau and continued through dense woodland. Well out of sight of the chateau, he pulled up in a huge clearing.
Litov tensed. The rear doors were thrown open and a hellish sound beat against his ear-drums, the sound of the starting-up of a helicopter’s rotors.
Litov had the powerful scent of pine wood in his nostrils. The guards, taking one end of his stretcher each, lifted him out. Litov, out in the open, saw above him a half-circle of dense pine trees, the halo of a moon behind cloud.
He had guessed right: he was somewhere in the Ardennes. As they carried him away from the van he saw Beaurain standing by a ladder leading into a chopper. What type he couldn’t identify.
Knowing this would be his last chance, Litov opened his eyes wide before they carried him up the ramp. The chopper, throbbing like some huge insect eager to fly away, stood in the centre of a pine-encircled clearing. No sign of a road or house anywhere. It would be impossible to pinpoint it later, even from the air. A long straight main road, a winding smaller one, presumably a house, probably a big one, and a clearing among pines nearby. There must be scores of such places in the Ardennes.
They carried him up a ramp into the rear of the machine and laid his stretcher on another leather couch with an iron rail running alongside it. Litov couldn’t hear the purr of the ramp closing above the roar of the rotors, but he was aware of sudden total darkness. One of the guards produced handcuffs and linked the stretcher with the iron rail. They were very thorough, these bastards. As if on cue, the machine began its climb into the night.
In the front cabin, which was isolated from the flying crew and from the cargo hold where Litov and his guards were, Beaurain and Henderson sat drinking the coffee made for them by Louise Hamilton, Beau-rain’s personal assistant. A dark-haired English girl of twenty-seven, dressed in slacks and a blouse which did not entirely conceal her excellent figure. The strong bone structure of her face showed character. The tools of her trade were not those of what the business world knows as a personal assistant. She carried a 9mm. pistol made at Herstal in her handbag and she faced Beaurain across the table. For the whole of the journey, while he was forced to be in one place, she would brief him on what had happened through the day and take his dictation. She began by reporting, “Alex says it’s a straightforward fracture. It will hurt for several days, but it will mend as good as new if he doesn’t mess about with it.” Beaurain was momentarily too tired to answer her. Henderson said nothing.
“I’ve read his file, Jules,” Louise persisted.
“He’s got a record that makes me shudder. You think he’ll break?”
Beaurain studied her across the table before replying. They had now climbed to two thousand feet and were flying smoothly. The pilot had his instructions and would carry them out to the letter. Through the window on his right the early streaks of dawn, the start of another glorious day. He sipped his coffee.
“Litov doesn’t have to break,” he said.
“He doesn’t? Then what the hell is all this about?”
“Chief’s right,” Henderson said.
“Litov doesn’t have to get the thumbscrew treatment, although we may have to drop him down a few flights of stairs so he doesn’t catch on. He just has to be tricked.”
The helicopter spent three hours in the air as far as Litov could reckon it, though he could no longer see his watch. He had no way of telling the direction the chopper was taking. All the windows had been blacked out so he hadn’t even the moon or the dawn light to go by. At one point Beaurain and the man he took to be his chief of staff came to look at him and to talk briefly with the doctor and the guards.
Fatigue was taking its toll of his powers of endurance and he was having trouble staying awake, when he felt the chopper lose altitude. Three hours. They could be in England, Italy, Spain, anywhere. The doctor left his chair and came over to Litov.
“I’m going to blindfold you,” he said.
“Don’t feel too helpless I’ll take this off as soon as we have arrived.”
Litov kept his eyes closed as he felt the band of cloth tied round his head. The chopper was descending at speed, dropping vertically. The doctor inserted ear-plugs so he heard nothing except the faint roar of the rotors. With a bump the machine landed. Within minutes he was being lifted and carried and he knew he was in the open.
They had not, however, deprived Litov of his sense of smell, and the first thing he noticed on leaving the helicopter was the acrid stench of a bonfire. An English bonfire. How could he forget it? He had once been attached to the Soviet Embassy in London. There were, of course, bonfires in other parts of Europe, but… The men carrying the stretcher paused and the doctor removed the ear-plugs. He assumed it was the doctor. The men transporting him began walking again. Complete silence for several minutes. They had switched off the engines of the helicopter. No sound of traffic anywhere. Then the silence was broken by the roar in the sky of a large jet lumbering upwards. Litov made a mental note. Only a crumb of information, but Berlin gathered in every crumb available.
“Careful up the steps,” a voice said, in German.
Germany? Yes, or even Austria. Telescope’s base could be in either of these countries. Feet scrunched on gravel, the first time he had heard their feet since leaving the chopper. The smell of the bonfire had disappeared. Litov strained every faculty to gather clues.
The stretcher tilted; his head was lower than his feet. He thought there were six steps and then the stretcher levelled out. Footsteps on stone, another slight lift, the footsteps became a padding sound — presumably they were now inside a house moving over carpet. A door being unlocked, the stretcher set down on a hard surface, a heavy door closing, a key in a lock. His blindfold was removed.
The same precise routine had continued for a week. So precise, Litov was now almost convinced he was somewhere in Germany, that Telescope was mainly controlled by Germans something no-one had even guessed at so far as he knew. There was the bus, for example. The room he was imprisoned inside m easured sixteen feet by twelve, the walls were stone as was the floor, and the window facing his single bed was high in the wall and made of armoured glass, he suspected. But it was louvred and kept open.
It was through this high window that he heard the sound of the bus stopping each day, always precisely at 3.50 p.m. He could hear passengers alighting and getting aboard; at least he assumed that was what was happening, but he could never catch the language they spoke in. Then there was something else which he couldn’t work out.
At 3.55 p.m. each day another vehicle stopped, smaller, it seemed from the engine sound. There would be a pause of about twenty-five seconds followed by the slam of a metal door. Then the vehicle would drive off.
The daily incident puzzled Litov. His frustration was all the greater because he stood five feet six tall and the window was six feet above floor level. Without something to stand on he was never going to see through the window. And there was nothing to stand on. The only furniture in the cell-like room was his single bed against the opposite wall whose leg-irons were screwed into the stonework. An d there was nothing he could use in the small, spotless toilet leading off the cell.
One thing Litov felt sure of: the building where he was imprisoned must be in the country and the window must overlook a country road. A bus only once a day suggested a remote spot. Nor was there any chance of his taking the risk and shouting while the bus was stopped his interrogator infuriatingly always chose this time of day to visit him and he had with him an armed guard. Each day he arrived sharp on 3.30, bringing his own chair which he later took away.
Beaurain himself introduced the interrogator on the day he arrived at nowhere.
“This is Dr. Carder. We need the answers to certain questions he will ask. Until we get those answers your diet will be restricted.”
This was a blow to Litov, predictable but still a blow. A non-smoker and a man who never touched alcohol, he did like his food and generally ate three cooked meals a day. Perched on the edge of his bed, he regarded the men Beaurain had left with him. One was a guard and, because he now always wore the Balaclava, Litov would not recognise Stig Palme, the man who had attacked him in the rue des Bouchers. The other, the doctor, puzzled him.
“I believe you smoke?”
The Englishman, who had used his own language, extended a packet of Silk Cut cigarettes. Litov shook his head, secretly a little triumphant. They had no idea who he was, no dossier on him otherwise his non-smoking habits would have been recorded.
Dr. Carder wore no mask. He sat on his wooden chair with his legs crossed and began to light an ancient pipe. Litov guessed he was in his early sixties. He wore a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows, grey trousers, a pale check shirt and a dark green tie. His thick hair and moustache were brown, his weatherbeaten face lined, his grey eyes mild and slow-moving.
“Shall we begin with your real name?” Carder enquired.
“That’s what your passport says. We can come back to that and try again, if you’d rather. Where were you born?”
The guard standing by and holding a machine-pistol made a menacing gesture but Carder restrained him.
“Our guest has every right to make any reply he wishes after all, we are in no hurry. All the time in the world, if need be.”
Carder reminded him of a man who spins out his job to fill the day, not caring whether he completes a task or not. It was all so different from what he had expected. No threats, not a sign that they would resort to torture. Carder went on asking his questions, relighting his pipe every few minutes, showing no reaction to Litov’s answers or when he gave no reply at all. At the end of half an hour Carder stood up, yawned and stared down at Litov.
“It’s going to take time, I can see that. You know something, Mr. Lacey? I once had a man in this room for two years before he came to his senses. I’ll see you tomorrow. Same time.”
Then the door had opened and closed, the key turned in the lock on the outside, and Litov was alone with his thoughts. Two years! To stop himself thinking about it he concentrated on working out how to get a sight of the bus which stopped outside.
Carder’s wooden chair. After several days of the afternoon interrogation routine Litov decided he needed the chair to stand on if he was ever to see out of the louvred window. That posed two problems. Carder had to forget to take the chair away after one of his visits, and he had to leave the cell soon after he arrived. He came at 3.30; the bus stopped at 3.50 p.m.
There was also the spy-hole above his bed, a small glass brick in the stone work. Litov had stood on his bed and examined the small square, but he could see nothing. Presumably they stationed guards there on a roster basis and he would be seen if he ever did get the chance to see out of the louvred window. But after one week, when the opportunity presented itself, he grabbed it.
It was his seventh day in the cell. Suffering from the steady pain of his arm and a diet of orange juice and water Litov felt it was more like seven months since his capture in Brussels. Carder arrived precisely at 3.30 and began with the irritating ritual of lighting his pipe. When he had it going nicely he looked at Litov without speaking for a minute, which again was what he had done each day.
“Changed your mind?” he asked at last.
“About what?” Litov glanced at the guard, wondering whether he could knee him in the groin and snatch the machine-pistol. But they had it all worked out. The guard stood well back, his weapon held across him so he could point the muzzle in half a second.
Carder, as always, had placed his chair six feet from the bed, so Litov could not snatch him as hostage and threaten to break his neck. The Telescope people seemed to know their business. Then they made their first mistake.
“About your name,” Carder said.
“Ah yes, of course. It’s a good job we have all the time in the world,” Carder mused and peered into the bowl of his pipe.
“Can’t make out what’s wrong with this thing today. It’s been playing up ever since I first…”
The cell door swung open and another masked guard stood in the entrance.
“Telephone for you, Doctor. Sorry for the interruption, but they said it can’t wait.”
Carder got slowly to his feet.
“Well, if you’ll excuse us just for a minute, Mr. Smith,” he said, and left the cell, followed by the guards. The door was slammed shut and locked from the outside. Litov sat very still, expecting someone to come back at any moment, but they didn’t. The chair was still there. They had forgotten the chair.
He checked his watch. 3.47. The bus was due in three minutes. He waited for two everlasting minutes. He stared at the square of glass brick above his bed. If anyone was watching they would be back soon enough, but it was a risk he had to take. He wanted his first look at the outside world in seven long days.
He needed to see the bus. He moved swiftly, marked in his mind where the chair stood and then lifted it to the window and climbed onto it.
As he had guessed, it was a country road, a narrow tarred road with a grass verge and trees. The bus came round the corner almost at once, a red single-decker. It stopped, the doors opened automatically and three people got off, two women carrying shopping baskets and a man with a labrador on a leash. The bus was there only a few seconds, and then was driving off out of sight. But Litov had seen its destination in the window at the front above the driver.
Fascinated, he watched the passengers walk away off down the road.
Another vehicle came round the corner, and pulled up almost underneath the window. Leaving the engine running, the uniformed driver attended to the emptying of the pillar-box while Litov studied the legend embossed on the side of the van which was also painted bright red. E II R. Her Majesty’s mail-van was collecting the post. He watched the van until it too had disappeared, got down off the chair and put it back in exactly the position Carder had left it. Then he lay down on the bed and closed his eyes.
Guildford. That had been the destination on the front of the bus.
Telescope’s base was in Surrey, England. And now he came to recall his earlier calculations of time spent aboard the chopper, everything fitted. He was being held at some house out in the country on a bus route to Guildford.
“He certainly took his first opportunity,” Henderson observed, clearly pleased.
“Not a man to underestimate,” Beaurain agreed.
“And the dossier says…” Carder was reading from a folder. ‘…Litov was attached to the Russian Embassy in London between July 1975 and December 1977 when he was returned to etc, etc.”
“Which suggests he is reasonably familiar with southern England,” Henderson pointed out. “He was followed by Special Branch to Woking, which is just north of Guildford, several times. They lost him every time, of course, the stupid buggers.”
Beaurain, Henderson and the doctor were finishing their cold drinks. It was another ferociously hot day.
“We’ll keep him here a few more days,” Beaurain said.
“Let him have a few more sessions with the doctor. Then he can go.” He stared hard at Henderson.
“You had better start making arrangements at once to organise the biggest underground dragnet you possibly can. Litov will head back for the Syndicate’s base, but he will expect to be followed.”
“He’s an expert at losing tails,” Henderson said.
“Exactly. So you’ll need to use the leapfrog technique. Whatever happens he mustn’t succeed in shaking loose from that dragnet.”
I’m on my way, sir.”
“And I,” suggested Carder, ‘had better get back to Litov. You’ll be about, sir?”
“Not for the rest of the day. I have a meeting in the city and won’t be back until late.”
Beaurain made his way to the front of the house, nodded as a guard opened the door for him and ran down the steps from the terrace to his Mercedes. Louise was waiting in the passenger seat. From a track into the woods walked a man wearing an English bus driver’s uniform.
Beaurain acknowledged his salute and drove away. At the bottom of the drive he turned right and speeded up as he passed a signpost. Bruxelles 240 km.
“Well, Louise, we’ve won the second round. I think we may have shared round one, but round two is ours.”
The imposing double doors of the Banque du Nord on the Boulevard Waterloo in Brussels were closed. Beaurain left Louise in the car and pressed the bell, giving the pre-arranged signal. The left-hand door was opened a few inches. The uniformed guard recognised Beaurain and then swiftly closed the door again when he was inside.
“Monsieur le Baron is expecting you,” the guard said, and escorted him to a small, gilt-framed door. He unhooked a phone and spoke into it while the lift descended. Beaurain approved of all this security: the people upstairs were being informed he was on his way.
“You will be met at the top,” the guard said, and stood aside to let him step into the lift. The lift stopped on the second floor and a second uniformed guard waited for him, a man Beaurain did not know. The guard checked a photograph after a searching glance at Beaurain’s face, then led him along a marble-floored corridor to a heavy panelled wooden door at the end. The guard ushered Beaurain in; it was one of those locks you could open by turning the handle from the inside but not from the outside. The door was closed behind him.
“My dear Jules, it is good to see you. And again my apologies for phoning you at the chateau and asking you to travel all this way at this hour.” The Baron shook his hand and gestured towards the telephone.
“You know I do not trust that instrument for important conversations.”
Something was amiss. Beaurain sensed the atmosphere as the Baron de Graer, president of the Banque du Nord, ushered him to a leather armchair and then mixed two double Scotches and soda without saying anything. The Baron was small and slim, his hair still dark, his eyes had the sparkle of a man of forty though he was a good deal older than that, his nose like the beak of an owl. Then his guest spotted what had alerted him to the tension. The Baron’s usually smiling mouth was compressed tight, like that of a man struggling for self-control or of one who was terrified. The latter was surely out of the question.
“Cheers! As the English say!”
The Baron managed the pleasantry with an effort and sat down next to Beaurain in another armchair. Beaurain studied him closely, remaining silent.
“I am so sorry for dragging you all this way at such short notice..”
He was finding excuses to delay saying what he had called Beaurain to tell him. Extraordinary: de Graer was a man of immense character.
“It made no difference,” Beaurain replied, watching his host very carefully.
“I had to come in anyway for a meeting with Voisin.”
“The Police Commissioner?”
What the devil was going on? The Baron’s tone was sharp and anxious.
Beaurain had the strange sensation that his world was being shaken all round him, a feeling of instability and of menace such as he had never known. Was he growing too sensitive to people, to atmospheres? Perhaps Louise was right when she said he badly needed a holiday?
“Yes,” Beaurain replied as evenly as he could.
“The subject is how to co-ordinate efforts to eradicate terrorism and there should be top people there from the States and from all over Europe. Is something wrong, Baron?”
“You may well be refused admission to the conference The Baron swallowed his drink in one gulp and stared at the far wall.
“I have a specific invitation to sit in on the meeting, I don’t anticipate any difficulty when I arrive there. What on earth has caused you to make such a suggestion?”
This time the banker looked directly at Beaurain. His grey eyes had a haunted look and, yes, there was fear in his expression. He used a finger to ease the stiffness of his starched collar.
“There are things you do not know, Jules. Power so enormous it is like a vast octopus which has spread its tentacles into every branch and level of western society. This morning the Syndicate sent out world-wide a signal naming ex-Chief Superintendent Jules Beaurain formerly of the Brussels police. It was a Zenith signal.”
He stood up and walked quickly to the cocktail cabinet. He refilled his glass, adding only a nominal dash of soda. Then he did something else out of character. He went behind his huge desk and sat in his chair, as though conducting a formal interview. Beaurain stood up, put his glass carefully on the desk, and began strolling slowly round the room, very erect. The Baron recognised the stance as the one Beaurain used when on duty in charge of the police anti-terrorist squad.
“Do you mind telling me,” he began, ‘how you know about a signal sent by the Syndicate which, so far as I know, has not yet been proved to exist? And,” he ended with deliberate coarseness, ‘what is this crap about Zenith’?
” Zenith means that the person named is to be kept under constant surveillance, that every move they make, everything they say, everyone they meet all their activities down to the smallest detail, so far as is possible must be reported to the Syndicate.”
Beaurain stopped in front of the desk and took his time lighting a cigarette, standing quite still, studying de Graer as though he were a suspect.
“I’m sorry, Jules, but I felt I must warn you…”
“Shut up! Shut up and answer my questions.”
“You cannot speak to me like that!” de Graer protested. He was standing up, his right hand close to the buzzer under his desk that would summon his secretary.
“If you press that buzzer I’ll throw whoever comes in down your marble stairs. Then I’ll probably break your wrist. For God’s sake, are you telling me you’re one of them the Syndicate?”
“No! How could you believe…”
“Then tell me how you know about this Zenith signal? Who transmitted it to you?”
“A woman phoned me. I have no idea who she is or where she is when she phones. No clue as to…”
“And why, de Graer,” Beaurain interrupted, ‘do the Syndicate phone you if you’re not one of them?”
“You’re not going to like this…”
“I haven’t liked any of it so far.”
“The Banque is a very minor shareholder in the Syndicate. That is how I have been able to pass information about them and their possible future activities to you from time to time. You know, surely, that after what I have been through I would never help them in a major way.”
After what I have been through. Beaurain had trouble not allowing his manner to soften at the banker’s use of the phrase. Just over two years earlier his wife and daughter had been held hostage in the Chateau Wardin by Iraqi terrorists seeking to bargain for the release of two of their comrades held in a Belgian prison. It was just before Beaurain had given up command of the anti-terrorist squad. The negotiations had been botched, a clumsy attempt at rescuing the hostages from the chateau had led to the death of the Baron’s wife and daughter.
Soon after the brutal killings the Baron had made over the Chateau Wardin and its ten thousand hectares of wild forest and hills and cliffs to Telescope’s gunners and other staff. The Baron would no longer go near the place.
“It is because of what you went through,” Beaurain told him in the same distant tone, ‘that I cannot understand your having anything to do with this diabolical Syndicate. You said the Banque was a very minor shareholder what does that mean, for God’s sake?”
“It has contributed only a very small amount of money.”
To the Syndicate?”
“Yes now please hear me out, Jules… When I was approached it seemed a good idea to accept their offer because it gave me a pipeline into their system, a pipeline I could use to feed back data to you. And this I have done.”
“That’s true. It is also true that you would never reveal the source of your information.”
“I felt you would not approve.”
“In what form was the offer made?”
The banker was beginning to sweat; tiny beads of perspiration were showing on his forehead. The atmosphere inside the luxurious office was electric and to de Graer it seemed it was becoming impossibly overheated. He made a move in the direction of the drinks cabinet, changed his mind, stood irresolutely behind his desk. Beaurain thought, he’s on the edge of a breakdown. He kept his tone distant, repeating the question.
“In what form was the offer from the Syndicate made to the Banque?”
“Over my private phone God knows how they got the number. They have people everywhere.”
“Who made the offer?”
“The woman I am supposed to phone about you. Yes, Jules, for God’s sake about you! I’m supposed to relay every word we have exchanged in this room.”
“The woman has a name?”
“Originally she just told me to call her Madame.”
“Flemish is the language she uses.”
“And the offer she made?”
“A shareholding in the Syndicate which would yield enormous profits for the sum we invested. Three hundred per cent annually was mentioned.”
“How do you conceal this criminal act from the other directors?”
“I paid the money in cash out of my private account.”
” You are lying, de Graer.”
The accusation was like a blow in the face to the old baron. Beaurain actually saw him flinch, his face drained of blood. He seemed to age before the ex-chief superintendent’s eyes. Beaurain felt sorry for his friend, but he refused to allow it to affect his judgement. He had to break through the barrier he sensed was there.
“You dare to speak to me like that, Beaurain…”
“I know when you are lying. I’ve spent a lifetime training myself to know things like that. You’re lying now or not telling me everything.
What really happened?”
“She threatened Yvette.”
“My niece, my sister’s daughter. After what happened to my own child.
For God’s sake, have a little pity, Jules I’m going to smash these people into the ground if it takes me the rest of my life. I just have to know where I stand with you who I can trust.”
“Hardly anyone now, I fear. And you are in great danger.”
“And the nature of the threat?” Beaurain still kept his voice a distant monotone, hoping to defuse the terror which had penetrated the heart of one of the most powerful banks in Brussels. De Graer did not reply in words. Taking a chain linked to his waistcoat he produced a ring of keys, chose one, inserted it in a desk drawer, opened it and produced an envelope which he handed to Beaurain. Beaurain took out the card inside, which at first sight seemed like a greeting card until he looked at the picture. It was primitive, crude, quite horrible and fiendishly effective. It was a drawing of a child’s doll sitting up in bed. Minus a head. Blood dripped from the truncated neck. At the foot of the bed a photograph of a child’s head had been pasted onto the card. Beaurain looked up at the banker.
“Yes, that’s Yvette.” De Graer couldn’t keep still. He kept glancing towards the drinks cabinet and then forcing himself to remain behind his desk.
“Can you imagine how I felt when that arrived?”
“You have warned your sister?”
“She mustn’t know anything about it.” The banker was close to panic now.
“Her husband is a prominent lawyer, as you know. He would create a great fuss — which might lead back to the Banque. I have complied with their demands supplied them with funds so Yvette is safe.”
“Damn you, Jules! Don’t say things like that! I have done my best, but the Syndicate has agents every where. No doubt there is someone inside this building who watches me.”
“Have you told this Madame who calls you about Telescope?” Beaurain asked slowly.
“For God’s sake, do you think I would betray the organisation I helped to build? What a question.” De Graer mopped his forehead with his handkerchief, beyond caring. Then he made a supreme effort and got a grip on himself.
“I am relying on Telescope to destroy the Syndicate. The police and security services are helpless they are not even convinced this new octopus exists. You would have found that out if you had been able to attend the Commissioner’s international conference.”
“But I am attending it.”
“You will be stopped at the door. Someone influential at that meeting has also received a Zenith message to exclude you. Do not ask me who it is I don’t know. Don’t ask me how I know.”
“This is the end of your connection with Telescope then?”
De Graer smiled bleakly for the first time. Producing the ring of keys at the end of the gold chain again he opened a much deeper drawer and brought out a brief-case which he placed on the desk. The key was in the lock. When Beaurain opened it he was staring at stacks of banknotes which filled the case. Swiss francs; a quick glance told him the serial numbers were not consecutive. Laundered money and quite untraceable. He shut and locked the case and looked at the banker.
“Another contribution to Telescope, Jules. The equivalent of half a million pounds in sterling.”
“Thank you, Baron. Thank you, very sincerely. Now, the telephone number Madame gave you to contact her?”
“She will know Yvette, my niece…”
“She will not know, but we might decide to trace her and put her out of action. Permanently.”
De Graer hesitated only a moment before he riffled through a card index on his desk, extracted a card and handed it to Beaurain. The banker had invented the name Pauline for Madame and he watched unhappily while Beaurain noted the number in his book. “This is getting almost like wartime,” de Graer commented. “Your use of the word “permanently”.”
“She threatened a little girl’s life, didn’t she? And you presumably have to report something to Madame about my visit since you’re convinced there is a spy inside the Banque? Agreed, then. You tell her I came to you as an old friend in some agitation because an attempt was made to assassinate me near the Grand Place. Tell her the assassin was able to make his escape. Tell her I looked shaken.” He picked up the brief-case. “Thank you again for the contribution. Before I go, is there anything else you can tell me about the Syndicate?”
De Graer hesitated, then stiffened himself. “All the members — shareholders…”
“Contributors to this criminal international organisation…”
He saw the banker flinch before he continued. “There will be a full meeting in about a fortnight’s time. I have been told I shall have to travel to Scandinavia, although where exactly I don’t know.”
“Let me know when you get more details,” Beaurain told him as he walked towards the door. “And from now on use a payphone in the street for calling the Chateau Wardin.”
The guard on the second floor accompanied him down in the lift. Was there an aura of hostility about the man? Beaurain was looking at everything with fresh eyes. And the guard was carrying a gun in a shoulder holster, an innovation for the Banque du Nord.
As he left the lift the guard did not look at him, remaining behind as the ground floor man took over again in silence and escorted him to the main doors. Beaurain paused before stepping out. A phone call could have been made, men could have been summoned. Louise Hamilton was sitting in the passenger seat and her expression was grim.
“Something wrong?” Beaurain enquired as he got behind the wheel.
“That creep in the blue Renault in front is what’s wrong. He’s given you a ticket. I told him who you were, but it made no difference.”
“I’ll have a word with him. Something odd is going on. I’ll explain later.”
Beaurain noticed that the policeman was in plain clothes. The man, lean-faced and swarthy, wound down the window at his approach. I was just considering having you towed away.”
“You know who I am?”
“Yes, but that…”
“I don’t know who you are — and only uniformed branch concerns itself with traffic offences Your action is harassment. Show me your warrant card.”
“I don’t have to show you anything.”
“So now I don’t think you’re in the police and I’m going to drag you out of that car and find some identity on you.”
Worried by Beaurain’s expression, the man produced his police card. Beaurain nodded, hacked the traffic ticket into the man’s top pocket and walked away, angry and puzzled. Since his resignation he had received the same courtesies as when he had been chief of the anti-terrorist squad. Was this development the result of the Zenith signal de Graer had received? Behind the wheel of the 280E, he said nothing to Louise but switched on the ignition and drove off.
“We’re being followed,” she said. “A cream Fiat with two men inside. It was parked behind me. When that man was giving me a ticket I saw him signal the couple behind us.”
In the mirror Beaurain saw the car. Three men in plain clothes had been detailed to watch him. The terror had started.