Rules of Vengeance

Excerpt

REUTERS> NEWSFLASH LONDON 11:38 GMT
A POWERFUL CAR BOMB EXPLODED THIS MORNING AT 1116 GMT IN THE LONDON BOROUGH OF WESTMINSTER. IMMEDIATE CASUALTIES ARE SAID TO NUMBER FOUR DEAD AND MORE THAN THIRTY WOUNDED. THE TARGET IS THOUGHT TO HAVE BEEN RUSSIAN INTERIOR MINISTER IGOR IVANOV WHO WAS TRAVELING IN A MOTORCADE FOLLOWING AN UNPUBLICIZED MEETING WITH BRITISH BUSINESS EXECUTIVES. THERE IS NO WORD YET AS TO WHETHER IVANOV WAS AMONG THE INJURED.
DEVELOPING . . .

London
Storey’s Gate, Westminster
11:18 GMT
T h e   w o r l d   w a s   o n   f i r e.
Flames licked at the ruined cars littering the roadway. Coils of black smoke choked the air. Everywhere there were bodies sprawled on the sidewalk and in the street. Debris rained down.

Jonathan Ransom lay on the hood of an automobile, half in, half out of the windshield. Lifting his head, he caused a torrent of fractured glass to scatter across his face. He put a hand to his cheek and it came away wet with blood. He could hear nothing but a shrill, painful ringing.

Emma, he thought. Are you all right?

Recklessly, he pulled himself clear of the windshield and slid off the hood. He staggered, one hand on the car, getting his bearings. As he took a breath and cleared his head, he remembered everything. The convoy of black cars, the tricolored flag waving from the antenna, and then the brilliant light, the sudden, unexpected wave of heat, and the liberating sensation of being tossed through the air.

Slowly he picked his way through the bodies and the wreckage toward the intersection where he’d seen her last. He was looking for a woman with auburn hair and hazel eyes. “Emma,” he called out, searching the bewildered and panicked faces.

There was a crater where the BMW she’d driven across the city and parked so precisely had detonated. The vehicle itself sat five meters away, blazing fiercely, essentially unrecognizable. Across from it was one of the Mercedes, or what was left of it. No survivors there. The blast had shattered the windows of every building up and down the street. Through the smoke, he could see curtains billowing forth like flags of surrender.

Up the street, a thin blond woman emerged from the smoke, walking purposefully in his direction. In one hand she held a phone or a radio. In the other she gripped a pistol, and it was pointed at him. Seeing him, she shouted. He could not hear what she said. There was too much smoke, too much confusion to tell whether she was alone or not. It didn’t matter. She was police and she was coming for him.

Jonathan turned and ran.

It was then that he heard the scream.

Immediately he stopped.

In the center of the road, a man tumbled from the wreckage of a black sedan and crawled away from the burning car. It was one of the Mercedes from the motorcade. Flames had seared the clothing off his back and much of the flesh, too. His hair was on fire, enveloping his head in a curious orange halo.

Jonathan ran to the suffering man, tearing off his own blazer and throwing it over the man’s head to extinguish the flames. “Lie down,” he said firmly. “Don’t move. I’ll get an ambulance.”

“Please help me,” said the man as he stretched out on the pavement.

“You’re going to be all right,” said Jonathan. “But you need to stay still.” He rose, searching for help. Farther down the road he saw a police strobe, and he waved his arms and began to shout. “Over here! I need some medical attention!”

Just then someone knocked him to the ground. Strong hands yanked his arms behind his back and handcuffed him. “Police,” a man barked into his ear. “Make a move and I’ll kill you.”

“Don’t touch him,” said Jonathan, struggling against the cuffs. “He has ­third—degree burns all over his body. Get a poncho and cover him up. There’s too much debris in the air. You have to protect the burns or he’ll die of infection.”

“Shut it!” yelled the policeman, slamming his cheek to the ground.

“What’s your name?” asked the blond woman, kneeling beside him.

“Ransom. Jonathan Ransom. I’m a doctor.”

“Why did you do this?” she demanded.

“Do what?”

“This. The bomb,” said the woman. “I saw you shouting at someone back there. Who was it?”

“I don’t—” Jonathan bit back his words.

“You don’t what?”

Jonathan didn’t answer. Far up the block, he’d spotted a woman with ungoverned auburn hair maneuvering through the crowd. He saw her for only an instant—less, even—because there were police all around, and besides, it was so smoky. All the same, he knew.

It was Emma.

His wife was alive.

One Day Earlier . . .

T h e   m o s t   e x p e n s i v e   r e a l   e s t a t e  in the world is located in the Borough of Mayfair in central London. Barely two square miles, Mayfair is bordered by Hyde Park to the west and Green Park to the south. Claridge’s Hotel, the world headquarters of Royal Dutch Shell, and the summer residence of the sultan of Brunei are within walking distance of one another. In between can be found many of the world’s best­known luxury boutiques, London’s only three­star restaurant (as awarded by the Guide Michelin), and a handful of art galleries catering to those with unlimited bank accounts. Yet even within this enclave of wealth and privilege, one address stands above the rest.

1 Park Lane, or “One Park” as it’s commonly known, is a luxury residential high­rise located at the southeast corner of Hyde Park. It began life one hundred years ago as a modest ten-­story hotel and over time has served as a bank, a car dealership, and, it is rumored, a high­class brothel for visiting Middle Eastern dignitaries. As real estate values began to spiral upward, so did the building’s aspirations.

Today, One Park stands some twenty stories tall and is home to nineteen private residences. Each occupies an entire floor, not counting the penthouse, which is a duplex. Prices start at five thousand pounds, or a breath under eight thousand dollars, per square foot. The cheapest residence goes for 15 million pounds; the penthouse, four times that, 60 million pounds, or nearly 90 million dollars. Owners include a former British prime minister, an American hedge-fund manager, and the purported leader of the Bulgarian underworld. The joke around the building is who among them is the biggest thief.

With so much wealth gathered beneath one roof, security is a twenty-four-hour concern. At all times, two liveried doormen cover the lobby, a team of three plainclothes officers roams the premises, and two more occupy the control room, where they keep a constant eye on the multiplex of video monitors broadcasting live feeds from the building’s forty-four closed-­circuit television cameras.

One Park’s imposing front doors are made from double-paned bulletproof glass, protected by a steel grate and secured by magnetic lock. The doors’ German manufacturer, Siegfried & Stein, guaranteed the lock against a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade. The front doors might be blown clear off their hinges and across the spacious marble lobby, but by God and Bismarck, they will remain locked. Visitors are granted entry only after their faces have been scrutinized via closed-circuit television and their identity confirmed by a resident.

For all intents and purposes, One Park is impregnable.

G e t t i n g   i n   w a s   t h e   e a s y   p a r t.

The trespasser, operational designation “Alpha,” stood inside the master bedroom closet of residence 5A of 1 Park Lane. Alpha was familiar with the apartment’s security system. Prior reconnaissance had revealed the presence of pressure pads beneath the carpet alongside the windows in every room and at the front entry, but none in the closet. There were other, more sophisticated measures, but they, too, could be defeated.

The intruder crossed to the door and flipped the light switch. The closet was palatial. A shoe rack stood against the far wall, and next to it a rolled-up flag of St. George and two Holland & Holland shotguns. The owner’s clothing hung along one wall. There was no women’s clothing to be seen. The residence belonged to a bachelor.

To the left were stacks of yellowing periodicals, bound newspapers, and manila files, the meticulously accumulated bric-a-brac of a dedicated scholar. To the right stood a mahogany dresser with several photographs in sterling frames. One showed a fit, sandy-haired man in hunting attire, shotgun under one arm, in conversation with a similarly sporty Queen Elizabeth II. The trespasser recognized the owner of the apartment. He was Lord Robert Russell, only son of the duke of Westminster, England’s richest peer, with a fortune estimated at five billion pounds.

Alpha had not come to steal Russell’s money, but for something infinitely more valuable.
Kneeling, the intruder removed a slim packet from a work bag. A thumbnail punctured its plastic wrapping. Alpha deftly unfolded a foil-colored jumpsuit and stepped into it. Care was taken to ensure that the suit covered every square inch of exposed skin. A hood descended low over the brow and rose over the jaw to mask the nose and mouth. The jumpsuit was made from Mylar, a material often used for survival blankets. The suit had been designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to prevent the escape of the body’s ambient heat.

Satisfied that the Mylar suit was in place, the intruder removed a pair of telescopic night­vision goggles and affixed them comfortably, again working to cover as much skin as possible. A pair of gloves came last.

Alpha cracked open the closet door. The master bedroom was cloaked in darkness. A scan of the area revealed a motion detector attached to the ceiling near the door. The size of a pack of cigarettes, the motion detector emitted passive infrared beams capable of detecting minute oscillations in room temperature caused by the passage of human bodies through a protected space. The alarm’s sensitivity could be calibrated to allow a cat or a small dog free rein of the premises without triggering the alarm, but Robert Russell did not own a house pet. Moreover, he was cautious by nature and paranoid by dint of his profession. He knew full well that his recent work had made him unpopular in certain circles. He also knew that if the past were to be taken as an indication, his life was in danger. The sensors would be set to detect the faintest sign of an intruder.

Even with the thermal suit, it was not yet safe to enter the room. Robert Russell had equipped his flat with a ­double-redundant security system. The motion detector constituted one measure. The other was a microwave transmitter that relied on the concept of Doppler radar to bounce sound waves off the walls. Any disturbance in the sound waves’ pattern would activate the alarm.

A survey of the bedroom failed to locate the transmitter.

Just then a voice sounded in Alpha’s earpiece. “He’s leaving the target. You have eight minutes.”

“Check.”

There was no time to waste.

Stepping out of the closet, Alpha moved swiftly to the bedroom door. No alarm sounded. No air horn. No bell. There was no microwave transmitter in the room. The bedroom door stood ajar, granting a clear view down a hallway and into the living area. Gloved fingers increased the night-vision goggles’ magnification fourfold. It required fifteen seconds to locate the ruby-red diode high on the foyer wall that signaled the location of the transmitter. There was no way to disable the diode. The solution lay in tricking it into thinking it was operating normally.

Drawing a miniature target pistol from the jumpsuit, Alpha took careful aim at the diode and fired. The pistol did not shoot a bullet—at least, not in the conventional sense of the word. Instead it launched a subsonic projectile containing a crystalline epoxy compound. Designed to flatten on impact, the epoxy would effectively block the sound waves and reflect them back to the transmitter. Still, for less than a second, the sound waves would be disturbed. The alarm would be triggered.

But there it would end.

The beauty and the arrogance of the double­blind alarm lay in the necessity to trigger both mechanisms at the same time in order to active the alarm. If the thermal sensor detected a rise in temperature, it would cross­check with the motion detector for a corresponding disruption in the Doppler waves. Similarly, if the Doppler­based motion sensor was disturbed, it would verify with the thermal sensor that there had been an increase in room temperature. If in either case the response was negative, the alarm would not be activated. The redundancy was not installed to make the room safer, but to guard against the possibility of a false alarm. No one had ever considered it possible to defeat both systems at the same time.

The projectile hit its target dead on. The ruby­red diode vanished. The room was clear.

Alpha checked the time. Six minutes, thirty seconds.

Inside the living room, it was necessary to fold back the carpet from the walls. The pressure pads were located as noted on the schematics. One was placed in front of each of the floor-to-ceiling windows looking over Hyde Park, and the third in front of the sliding glass door that led to the balcony. Each required one minute to disable. There was another near the front door, but Alpha didn’t bother with it. The entry and escape routes were the same.

Four minutes.

Free to roam the apartment, the intruder made a beeline for Russell’s study. Alpha had been inside the apartment before and had made a point of memorizing its layout. A sleek stainless steel desk occupied the center of the room. On it were three LCD monitors arrayed side by side. A far larger screen, some ninety­six inches across, hung from the wall directly opposite him.

Alpha directed a halogen beam beneath the desk. The computer’s central processing unit sat on the floor at the rear of the foot well. There was no time to copy its contents, only to destroy it. Alpha slipped a handheld electronic device from the work bag and swiped it several times over Russell’s CPU. The device delivered an immensely powerful electromagnetic pulse, obliterating all data.

Unfortunately, the information was also stored in a more permanent location: Robert Russell’s estimable brain.

“He’s pulling into the garage,” announced the voice in the earpiece.

The time was 2:18 a.m. “Everything’s a go,” said Alpha. “Get lost.”

“See you back at the fort.”

On the desk was a web tablet, an all-in-one touch screen that controlled the apartment’s automatic functions. With a touch Russell could turn on the television, open or close the curtains, or adjust the temperature. There was another, more interesting feature. If one hit the security button, the screen divided itself into quarters, each showing the view from one of the building’s closed­circuit cameras. The top left quadrant showed Robert Russell leaving his car, an Aston Martin DB 12. Russell appeared entering the basement foyer a moment later. A few seconds passed and he entered the bottom left quadrant, this time inside the elevator. At thirty, he was tall and lean, with a full head of tousled white­blond hair that drew looks wherever he went. He wore jeans, an open shirt, and a blazer. Somewhere in the past, he’d earned a black belt in Brazilian ju jitsu. He was a dangerous man in every respect.

He stepped out of the elevator, and a moment later appeared in the final screen, standing inside his private alcove and pressing his pass key and thumb to the biometric lock.

Alpha walked into the kitchen and opened the freezer. On the top shelf were two bottles of vodka sheathed in ice rings. “·Zubrówka,” read the labels. Polish vodka made from bison grass. The vodka tasted like warm velvet.

The tumblers to the front door slid back. Robert Russell’s heels clicked on the marble floor. The trespasser took off the balaclava, unzipped the jumpsuit, and waited. The disguise was no longer needed. It was essential that Russell not be frightened. His keychain held a panic button that activated the alarm.

Russell walked into the kitchen. “Jesus, you scared the hell out of me,” he exclaimed.

“Hello, Robbie. Care for a drink?”

Russell’s smile faded rapidly as the facts arranged themselves in his razor­sharp mind. “Actually, just how the hell did you get in here?”

He had barely finished the words when the trespasser, operational designation Alpha, brought the bottle of vodka and its ice sheath down on his skull. Russell collapsed to all fours, the keychain skittering across the floor. The blow left him stunned but not unconscious. Before he could call out, Alpha straddled him, grasped his jaw in one hand, his hair in the other, and wrenched his head violently to the left.

Russell’s neck snapped like a rotted branch. He fell limp to the floor.

It took all of Alpha’s strength to drag the body across the living room and onto the balcony. Alpha flung his arms over the railing, then grasped Russell’s legs, hefted the dead weight, and rolled the body over.

She did not wait to see Lord Robert Tavistock Russell strike the granite stairs 35 meters below.