Thirty-two

Kathleen should have known.

Sir Thomas Mathews.

Who sat beside her in the car.

“Will you never learn?” he asked. “Shooting up that store. People could have been killed.”

“But they weren’t. Odd, wouldn’t you say?”

“Is there some implication in that observation?”

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“I can see now why your supervisors warned me against involving you in this matter. Not worth the bother, I believe, was the phrase they used.”

“The man had a gun. There was a woman and child inside. I did what was necessary.”

“And where are Mr. Malone and Ian Dunne?”

“The Metropolitan Police didn’t find them?”

Mathews smiled, a wiry grin that signaled more agitation than amusement. “You would think that, at some point, you might actually learn from your mistakes.”

Actually, she had. “Where’s Eva Pazan?”

“Dead, I presume. As you reported.”

“You and I both know that is not the case. She doesn’t exist. At least not at Oxford.”

Mathews sat with both hands resting atop the ivory globe at the end of the walking stick. He kept his gaze out the car’s windscreen.

“I underestimated you,” he finally said.

“Does that mean I’m not as daft as you thought I would be?”

He turned his head and faced her. “It means I underestimated you.”

“What are you doing?”

“I am protecting this nation. At the moment it faces a serious threat, one with potentially dire consequences. It’s all quite remarkable, actually. Something that occurred five hundred years ago, and yet could still cause so much trouble today.”

“I don’t suppose you would share what that is?”

“Hardly. But let me make something clear. It is a real threat, one that cannot be ignored, one that your Blake Antrim has forced us, after many centuries, to finally face.”

* * *

Malone stared at Ian. “Are you sure that’s the man?”

“He had that same cane. A white ball on the end with markings on it, like a globe. Wore a suit just like that one he has on now. It’s him.”

The boy’s revelation was even more incredible considering the man.

Thomas Mathews.

Longtime head of the Secret Intelligence Service.

While with the Justice Department he’d several times worked with MI6, twice dealing with Mathews. The man was shrewd, clever, and careful. Always careful. So his presence outside Oxford Circus a month ago, when Farrow Curry was killed, raised a ton of questions.

But one rose to the top.

“You told me that the man who forced you into the car was the same guy who pushed Curry into the train. That still true?”

Ian nodded. “Same bloke.”

He realized that killing was part of the intelligence business.

But outright murder? Here, on British soil, by British agents? The victim an employee of a close ally? And the head man himself personally involved? That raised the stakes to unimaginable levels.

Antrim was into something massive.

“He’s been in that car with her awhile,” Ian said.

He caught the concern and agreed.

“You think she’s in trouble?” Ian asked.

Oh, yeah.

* * *

Kathleen realized her situation was strained. She was at Mathews’ mercy.

“Miss Richards, this is a vital matter the prime minister himself is aware of. As you noted at Queen’s College, laws have been bent, if not outright broken. National interests are at stake.”

She caught what had not been uttered. So why are you so much trouble?

“You came to me,” she said.

“That I did. A mistake, as I now realize.”

“You never gave me a chance to do anything.”

“That’s where you are wrong. I gave you every chance. Instead, you ventured out on your own.” He hesitated. “I am aware of your questions at Oxford to the security personnel and your visit to the master at the Inns of Court. You should have listened to me at Queen’s College and did as told.”

“You should have been honest with me.”

He chuckled. “Unfortunately, that luxury is not available here.”

She did not agree. “What now?”

“Rogues, such as yourself, eventually reach the end of the road.”

“So I’m unemployed?”

“I wish it were that easy. Those national interests I mentioned, the ones we are protecting, require extraordinary measures to safeguard. Not ones I normally resort to within our borders, but here, I have no choice.”

She did not like the sound of that.

“The last thing we can allow is for an uncontrollable soul, like you, to speak of this.”

He reached for the door latch.

“You’re going to have me killed?” she asked.

He opened the door and slipped out, quickly slamming it behind him.

A panic gripped her.

Two men immediately climbed into the front.

She wiggled her body across the backseat and kicked one of the doors. Then she realized the better play was the window and slammed her foot into it. One of the men curled over the front seat and a gun barrel was pressed into her stomach.

Her eyes found his.

“Stay still,” he said, “or I’ll shoot you right here.”

* * *

Malone watched as Thomas Mathews exited the car and two men immediately entered. He saw Richards’ head disappear then the soles of her shoes pound the rear window.

“She’s in trouble,” Ian said.

The street had again congealed with traffic.

The car wasn’t going anywhere fast.

“Let’s help her,” Ian said.

“You have an idea?”

“I think so. At least it’s always worked for me before.”

* * *

Kathleen had never experienced this level of fear. She’d found herself in tight situations, her life endangered, but she’d always managed to dodge the worst consequences. Sure, there’d been repercussions with her bosses for the risks she took, but those came later, after the fact, when the danger had long passed.

This was different.

These men intended to kill her.

Inside a police car? She doubted it. But if she continued to resist, they just might shoot her here. So she gave the gun jammed into her gut the respect it deserved and stopped kicking.

“Sit up,” the man ordered.

He dropped back into the front passenger seat but kept a watchful eye and the gun aimed at her. The car eased from the curb and merged with the two-laned traffic, vehicles in both directions stopping and starting on the narrow lane.

Be patient, she told herself.

Stay calm.

Wait for an opportunity.

But when? Where? How?

The prospects did not seem promising.

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