Irving Slater’s first reaction, after Jones had sheepishly called him from the hotel to say that Hope had got away with Bradbury and one of the agents, had been stunned silence. That had quickly modulated into pure rage, a blistering superfury that had reduced Jones almost to tears on the phone.
But now, a couple of hours later, he’d calmed down. Not enough to be able to flop down on the giant sofa opposite the fifty-inch screen. But enough to think clearly and gain a perspective on this whole thing.
And he’d come to a decision, one that he’d resisted for months but which he now realised he’d delayed for much too long.
He picked up the phone and dialled. Waited. A voice answered.
‘It’s me,’ he said.
‘Never mind that. Listen. Change of plan. This is getting out of hand. I’ve decided to fast-track the Stratagem.’
There was a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line. ‘Why now?’ the associate asked.
‘Something’s come up,’ Slater said. ‘Something very interesting that suits us perfectly.’ He described it.
‘They’ll all be there? Their president and the four members of the Supreme Council?’
Slater smiled. ‘All right under the same dome. And a lot of other very important people. Talk about giving them a slap in the face, huh?’
‘If we can pull it off…’
‘Call Herzog. It takes place in three days. Tell him I’ll double his price if he can make the date.’
‘You’re sure about this?’ There was a tremor in the associate’s voice. ‘It’s a big step.’
‘It’s a very big step,’ Slater agreed. ‘But this is the time. We do this now, or never. “
‘This is an important moment,’ the associate muttered. ‘I wish you wouldn’t curse like that.’
‘Don’t be so fucking pious. It’s boring.’
‘Is Richmond ready for this?’
‘He will be. I’ll make sure of that. You worry about your end. Do it now.’
Slater ended the call. With jubilation in his step he trotted across to the drinks cabinet. Yanked the bottle of Krug out of the ice bucket and poured himself a large glass. He raised the champagne in a silent toast to himself and his moment of glory. Downed the glass in one.
His heart was beating. He’d done it. No more waiting. He topped up his glass and lay back on the sofa, barely able to contain his excitement. He aimed the remote at the giant TV and stabbed a couple of keys. His favourite satellite porn channel filled the screen, and he savoured that for a while as he polished off the Krug.
Then the phone rang. Slater muted the groans and gasps from the surround-sound speakers and picked up.
It was the associate ringing back.
‘It’s settled. Three days.’
‘Tell Herzog he’s a pro.’
‘I think he already knows that.’ The associate hung up.
Slater gulped down the last of the champagne, wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his silk shirt and dialled a number.
Jones answered on the third ring.
‘It’s me,’ Slater said.
‘No sign,’ Jones said, anticipating him. ‘But we’re searching. We’ll get them. It’s under control.’
‘I’ve heard that before. And when you do find them, I want them dead.’
‘All of them? Bradbury too?’
‘But the ostraka -’
‘We’ve gone beyond that now,’ Slater interrupted. ‘The plan’s altered. Jerusalem is going ahead.’
‘How soon?’ Jones breathed.
‘Three days,’ Slater said. ‘So. You find them. And bury them.’