Eight, страница 1
James R. Vance
Copyright James R. Vance 2011©
©All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers or author, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
This is work of fiction. Any similarity to persons alive or dead is purely coincidental.
Published by: TheEbookSale Publishing
To my children, Simon, Jay & Stephanie
and to the memory of my parents, Mona and James
The File on the Tsar by Anthony Summers & Tom Mangold
Michael and Natasha : The Life and Love of Emperor Michael II, the Last Czar of Russia by Rosemary & Donald Crawford
Al-Qaeda by Jason Burke
Three books that inspired me; their well-researched material helped to add some credibility to a fictional storyline.
Marcel Laboujonnière my octogenarian French friend whose vast knowledge of France continues to engross and educate me.
Eight has long been a lucky number in Chinese culture because its pronunciation in many Chinese dialects is similar to the word, which means ‘wealth’ and ‘prosperity’. It is also a perfect symmetrical shape. Perfect symmetry lends itself to perfect balance. In Chinese Astrology, perfect balance is considered the ideal.
In maths, above number one, the square of every odd number minus one is divisible into multiples of eight.
In Babylonian myth, there were seven spheres plus an eighth realm, the fixed stars, where the gods lived. As a result, eight is often associated with paradise. Muslims believe that there are seven hells but eight paradises, signifying God's mercy. In Buddhism eight is a lucky number, possibly because of the eight petals of the lotus, a plant associated with luck in India and a favourite Buddhist symbol.
Petra Rebovka's encounter with the number would lead her on a journey back in time towards a dramatic event in the history of the modern world.
Part One A French Connection
Part Two A History Lesson
Part Three Southern Discomfort
Part Four The Eighth Day
Part Five Revelations
Part One A French Connection
Torrential rain bounced off the surface of the tarmac, the wet road glistening beneath the glow of a solitary streetlight. A steady downpour created a shimmering curtain against the drab veil of a miserable night. Local pubs and clubs had offloaded their drunken revellers long ago. The neighbourhood was deserted; nearby terraced houses were in darkness. The distant bark of a stray dog fractured the eerie silence. As a tomcat skulked in the charcoal shadows, the telltale sound arrested the lone night prowler in its tracks. With one silky movement, it leaped to a safer level on a crumbling brick wall.
Seconds later, a dark saloon emerged from a bend in the road, creating waves of murky water. The rear door flew open to eject an unrecognisable bundle. The momentum carried the object across the pavement where it slammed against the wall. Sensing menace, the cat arched its back, meowed, and vanished into the night. The streets were still again, apart from the gurgling drains as they consumed the excess deluge.
In the weed-grown foundations of the wall, the body of a young man lay motionless amidst his shattered dreams. This was Moss Side, Manchester, where random atrocities were not uncommon. Drugs and gang warfare were generally the root causes. Events in Southern France had sealed this young man's fate.
Her toned skin glistened with beads of sweat. Disengaging herself from the turbo bike, she grabbed a towel. Her whole body trembled with the effort from the exercise. She glanced across at the mirrored wall. Tall, fit and beautiful, she was in peak condition. Her dark hair, normally long and flowing, cascaded in tight bunches onto her shoulders. In this environment, safety was paramount. Her grey green eyes sparkled, emphasising her pumped up vitality. She blinked to rid them of moisture whilst her tongue licked the salty taste from her sensuous lips.
Satisfied with her morning workout at the fitness centre, she was ready to refresh herself with a cold shower. Before heading for the changing rooms, she glimpsed a familiar face in the lounge area. Gently dabbing the perspiration from her arms and shoulders, she strolled across to greet him.
Petra Rebovka leaned over a barrier as she spoke to the face. “I thought that you had forsaken me or were intent on hiding away.”
The rugged features creased into a grin. “I believe that you completed the training successfully. Achieved a top grade, I hear. You certainly look in great shape.” His expression became serious. “Get changed. We need to talk.”
Petra disappeared. Rob Smith returned to his cappuccino and reflected on the honed perfection of her athletic body. He recollected her initial recruitment. Some butterfly, he thought. She is now more like a killer bee. Her suspect but authorised rescue from a deserved prison sentence had ruffled the establishment at the time. However, her expendable potency balanced the books in his estimation. If she were to fail and fall in the line of duty, she would have paid the price for her premature release from a justified penance.
Petra emerged ten minutes later, hair flowing again. She wore a black tracksuit, courtesy of Nike merchandising. She carried a matching gym sack that hung casually from her left shoulder.
She joined him at his table and nodded towards his coffee. “You can treat me to a fresh orange. All that caffeine's not good for you.”
“I've taken bigger risks.”
Having ordered the juice, they engaged in small talk for several minutes. They had met some years previously in Phuket at the time of the 2004 tsunami. The following year, their paths had crossed again when Petra was facing a murder charge. Rob had been instrumental in her release. Subsequently, he had exerted considerable influence to recruit her into the Secret Intelligence Service.
After completing her intensive training programme, her senior manager had assigned her to a counter-terrorism team. She was now equipped for her initial assignment as an operational officer. Rob was her mentor.
In the course of their conversation, Petra leaned back in the chair, flicking moist hair from her face. “So, cut to the chase. Why are you here?”
“How's your command of the French language?”
“French…you must be joking. You know that I'm almost fluent in Czech and have mastered some Polish…but French. Give me a break.”
Rob reached down to pick up a bulky package from under the table. He passed it to her. “A course in basic French on C.D.s. You have two weeks to get your head round them.”
With reluctance, Petra reached out to take his offering. In no rush to open it, she stared first at the package, then at Rob. “I thought the service provided language training courses.”
“This is it,” he replied. “It's a crash course.”
She shook her head in disbelief. “Two weeks? What then?”
“Your first solo assignment.”
“In France, I presume?”
Rob tutted. “No…China! Where d'you think, Petra?”
“I can't believe that you expect me to learn a new language in such a brief period.”
“Get to grips with the C.D.s first. In a couple of days, you'll receive a visit from a young woman who works for the bureau. She is French but speaks perfect English. She will help with the pronunciation. I've booked her for five sessions spread over the two weeks. I've asked her to concentrate on conversational French.”
“So, if she speaks the lingo, why not give her the assignment?”
“She's not a field operative. Don't worry; with your grasp of languages, you'll be fine. If I remember correctly, you played the role of a Polish girl for some months without any problems.”
“That was different.”
“You hoodwinked the police completely.”
Petra laughed. “That was down to their incompetence, not the result of my language skills or my acting ability.”
Rob smiled, reflecting on his own wrongful arrest during the same investigation. “I cannot disagree with you on that score.”
Petra looked about her before leaning forward. “What's the assignment, then?” she whispered.
“You'll be briefed later when you're proficient in the language. Don't let me down.” Rob glanced at his watch. “I must fly. See you in two weeks time. Au revoir, mademoiselle.”
He stood to leave, but leaned closer to her. “That reminds me; don't forget that you are now Louise Charrière. If you remember, we agreed that at your recruitment. At least with a name like that, people will think that you have some affiliation with France.”
Petra watched him go. She shuddered slightly. She had trained for this moment. What was in store for her? She considered herself physically capable, but mentally prepared?
All aspects of instruction had been intensive. With regard to the practical elements of the course, she had total confidence in her improved abilities: she could handle weapons expertly and her controlled aggression in unarmed combat had been admirable. She had perfected her knowledge and use of equipment and covert technology came quite natural to her. Though she had passed every psychological test, none of her skills and mental strength had been tested in the operational field. This was her major concern. How would she react in an unpredictable or dangerous situation?
Before joining the security services, she had committed some macabre crimes. She had killed mercilessly without emotion or regret, but she had always been in control. Maybe that was the answer, she thought. I must dominate every situation. I must believe in myself. It's the only way to survive.
She left the fitness centre mildly excited, but somewhat nauseous. She convinced herself that it was just nerves, the fear of the unknown.
“I don't care. You're paid to do a bloody job…just do it.” Michel Dumas was angry, very angry.
He walked the length of the pool, his mobile clamped tightly to his ear. He always walked when using the phone. It seemed to be the norm with mobile phone users. He often wondered how he had coped before the devices had arrived on the scene. Roche was giving him a migraine. That made him angry. His anger caused the migraine. This was not a good sign.
Roche was unable to cope. “There are too many…all at the same time. I'm running out of places to accommodate them, I'm already out of drivers and it takes time to prepare all the soddin’ documents.”
Dumas was now striding towards the deep end. “I've told you before to use that bloody garage place next door. Just stick a load of cheap beds or some mattresses in there. These guys are probably used to sleeping on bloody straw in mud huts. If you've no bleedin’ drivers, book them on a damn flight.”
“It's not that simple. They need passports before I can make the reservations and now the ones for Germany have arrived. I need some help. I can't manage the whole process by myself.”
“Can't, can't, bleedin’ can't. That's all I ever hear from you. You'll just have to make the best of it. I'm too busy to worry about your bloody problems. You've got until next weekend to sort it.”
“Why, what's happening then?”
“You seem to have forgotten. It's my daughter's engagement party and certain special guests will be expecting a progress report. I need to know that you've cleared the bloody backlog. Sort it or you'll be wearing a suicide vest with the rest of them.”
Roche was one of the impoverished many; Dumas one of the wealthy few. Roche was a self-made pauper. He had earned vast sums but had frittered it away on drink, gambling and women…in that order of priority. Dumas was a self-made millionaire. Importing drugs across the Mediterranean had been his main source of income, most of which he had invested in prime city centre properties yielding high rental returns. Current criminal activities provided the added bonus of a lavish lifestyle, reflected by his hillside villa above Marseille.
From there, he could look across the azure sea towards Isle d'If, the focal point of his ancestor's famous novel, The Count of Monte Cristo. The adventurous lifestyle and battles against the authorities of Dantè, the hero of the story, were mirrored in Dumas's own constant disregard for the law during his struggle to achieve financial success. In his mind, poverty represented weakness and led to subservience; wealth brought power and control. Roche was a huge muscular man; Dumas was of medium build and stocky. In a contest, there could be only one winner. Roche knew that he had to ‘sort it’. He would always be the loser.
Dumas finished the call and kicked a chair into the deep end. His pool cleaner, Bobo, swiftly made himself scarce. He had heard ghastly tales about the fate of his predecessor. He was not prepared to take any chances with Dumas in such a violent temper. Something or someone had upset him. He wondered if it was worth reporting.
“Inspector, what a pleasant surprise.” Caroline Finch held out her hand as Detective Chief Inspector Massey entered the Beacon, a pub restaurant located in the Peak District. Straddling the Pennine Chain, hills often referred to as ‘the backbone of England’, the area was popular with tourists for its natural beauty and cultural heritage.
“What are you doing here?” he asked. “I thought that you had retired from the business.”
“The licensee's on holiday. He's gone off abroad seeking the sun, whilst we have to contend with this unseasonably cold weather. I've been looking after the pub for a couple of weeks. It helps me to keep up to date with the licensed trade. I finish on Friday. What about you, Inspector? I heard that you had decamped to the capital. Were the streets of London not paved with gold, after all?”
Massey smiled. “It was certainly not what it's cracked up to be. Let's face it; the grass is not always greener.”
“So, is this a fleeting visit or are you back for good?”
“I've transferred to my original North West stomping ground, not to Cheshire this time but to Greater Manchester. In fact, I'll be based at Ashton. It was difficult to stay in London.” He hesitated. “There are too many bad memories.”
She was unaware of his inner distress. “You just couldn't stay away, could you? Let me fix you a drink and you can explain your change of heart. Trade's dead at this time of year, so I've had an easy time of it. We can sit by the fire and you can entertain me with tales of life in the big city. What can I get you?”
“A whisky would not go amiss.”
Caroline poured their drinks before settling onto a leather sofa by a roaring log fire. Massey recounted his experiences with the Metropolitan Police that had culminated with the tragic death of his brother-in-law, Detective Chris Turner.
“I only met him briefly,” she said. “He seemed to be a sensible young man with a bright future. I had the impression that he perceived you as his role model. Such a tragedy…you must have been devastated.”
“Losing Chris was a major turning point in my life. The fire went out inside. It was time to start again, to go back to my roots, to focus on getting the job done regardless of my self-pity. There was an opportunity here. I applied and here I am.”
“At least, you have family and friends to call on in this neck of the woods.”
“Not really. I'm divorced now and most of my friends have moved on, but this area of the country will always be home for me. I'll miss Chris. I had confidence in him making it to the top.”
Massey gazed at the fire as it drew sparks and smoke upwards into the sooty blackness of the stone chimneybreast. His mind was suddenly elsewhere. He shook his head, sighe
“Chris had one major flaw. He would make decisions without consulting anyone. He perceived his actions as taking the initiative. When we were in Cheshire, he was lucky. It worked well for him. In London, it cost him his life. If only the stupid devil had confided in me first.”
There was a short silence. Caroline felt awkward, unwilling to pry. She sensed that his anguish was extremely personal. Maybe he was not yet ready to talk about it in detail.
Massey took a sip of his whisky. “I'm really here to beg a favour.”
“You know that you only have to ask.”
“I've purchased a property down the road between Mottram and Stalybridge but it will be a couple of days before I can move in. The removal firm has promised to deliver on Friday. In the meantime, I need some temporary accommodation as I start my new job tomorrow in Ashton. Knowing this area so well, I thought immediately of the Beacon and its charming rooms.”
Caroline touched his arm affectionately. “At this time of the year, especially with the icy conditions and the lingering snow, there are always vacancies. It will be a pleasure to have your company for a few days.”
“I should be away by the weekend provided that my furniture arrives on time.”
“If you need any help with the move, just say the word, Inspector. As I said, I finish here on Friday, so after that I'll have plenty of spare time.”
“On one condition…you stop calling me ‘Inspector’. My name is Raymond. Besides, I'm now a Chief Inspector.”
“Promotion as well…my, how your life has changed. Another whisky, Chief Inspector?” She emphasised his title, gently teasing him.
As she stood, someone thrust open the main door to the bar. A white-faced man in soiled overalls burst into the room. He appeared to be extremely agitated.