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The rule of the people, p.16
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       The Rule Of The People, p.16

           Christopher Read

  * * *

  Markova had known their escape from Bolshoy Kamen was going to be difficult, the obvious choices of north and east needing to be avoided if at all possible with just one road in each direction snaking through the dense forest and mountain peaks. Markova’s alternative had been rather more convoluted, its sole advantage a clear route past the encircling police.

  The Lada Niva remained in Bolshoy Kamen, its new owner presumably either stripping it for parts or changing its colour and registration plates. In exchange, they had experienced the gut-wrenching comfort of a small fishing boat, the vessel fighting its way west through a night-time storm and across the Ussuri Bay to pass south of Vladivostok; the Amur Bay was next, their trip some eighty-five kilometres in total, Markova and Nikolai eventually dropped close to the town of Slavyanka.

  By early afternoon Nikolai had somehow acquired suitable transport, the six year-old black Volkswagen Tiguan speedy and comfortable, its four-wheel drive proving an essential option with snow sweeping down from an ominous-looking sky almost as soon as they had set off. There was virtually no traffic and the journey along the two-lane highway had been relatively stress-free, the road winding its way gently through the low mountains.

  With China just twenty kilometres to the west and the North Korean border to the south, Russia’s military presence was a constant worry if not necessarily a threat; so far that had involved a lone helicopter flying low to the west and a line of ten army vehicles, heading south. Steep banks, rocky mountain slopes, innumerable rivers, bogs and forests: the local terrain offered its own protection against serious incursions from either side, and Russia’s forces were gathering much further to the north where the topography was rather less intimidating. The weather was hardly ideal for any invasion and by the end of the month the daily high would be below freezing, with a fifty-fifty chance of snow.

  The military build-up around Ussuriysk to the north would mean incessant road blocks and security checks, Markova still unsure how best to avoid them. It would be foolish to assume Chavkin had stayed silent and it wouldn’t take much to link the attack to the outsiders staying at the Laguna, their real identity unlikely to remain a secret for long. That meant their IDs were most likely worthless, their description sent to every police officer and security agent within a thousand kilometres. With all local civilian flights grounded because of the crisis, it would be a long crawl back to safety, Markova not even sure where exactly that might be. Nikolai was increasingly determined to push the General Morozov option, the lure of Astrakhan and the Caucasus beginning to look the only sensible alternative.

  Markova felt she had certainly done more than enough to gain the General’s trust. Better too that he should be the one to decide how best to profit from what they had learnt, the implications far too complex for someone who had barely slept in forty-eight hours. Chavkin had made no specific mention of Golubeva, but Sukhov and the Commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet had clearly been part of the project from the very beginning. The involvement of Valeri Karenin was of unclear significance, Markova needing to listen again to Chavkin’s revelations, every whispered word and strangled plea recorded on an audio file.

  Each time she heard it, there was always the thought of what would she have done if Chavkin had lied or played for time. Would she really have let his son be mutilated just to satisfy her personal quest? The fear was that she would have done so without a moment’s hesitation and she had no doubt Nikolai would have followed her orders without any qualms of conscience. Necessity and morality were often uneasy allies, and Golubeva’s Russia had left little place for sentiment, Markova with her own scores to settle.

  A copy of the audio file had been sent to Morozov whilst they had still been in Bolshoy Kamen, the satellite phone often their only viable link to the outside world. Russia’s satellite intelligence network was second to none and each brief call became a calculated risk, a safer alternative rapidly climbing up their list of priorities. Cash, food, fuel – their resources were increasingly limited, Markova with no clear plan other than that of trying to reach the urban sprawl of Khabarovsk.

  The VW bucked suddenly, Markova’s thoughts jerked back to the present as Nikolai fought to keep the car under control, the road icing up under the continued onslaught of sleet and snow. The car slid to a stop just off the highway, the lethal combination of encroaching darkness and foul weather persuading Nikolai that it was time to reconsider their options.

  Despite the lack of traffic, it seemed unwise to simply spend the night parked beside the highway and after a short break Nikolai pulled the car round, heading back the way they had come. Five minutes later, he turned right onto an unmarked track heading west, it quickly narrowing to barely a car’s width. Another three kilometres and Markova called a halt, the weather and night closing in around them to offer a dubious element of privacy.

  They had food and a couple of blankets, past experience proving that Nikolai could sleep anywhere, Markova finding it harder not to dwell on the dangers ahead. It surely couldn’t be long before Russia was at war, Golubeva manipulating events with little concern as to the thousands that would die as a consequence. Markova might not be able to stop her but nor was she prepared to be just a passive observer, determined at least to try and make a difference. However she looked at it, General Morozov seemed to offer the only genuine hope for Russia, his own future survival perhaps even more tenuous than Markova’s.

  Terrill, U.S.A. – 15:04 Local Time; 20:04 UTC

  The repercussions of the previous day seemed significantly more extreme than Anderson had anticipated and for some unknown reason both he and Flores were taking the fall, Anderson’s temporary contract terminated, Flores ordered to take two week’s leave. The base at Terrill was also a casualty, most of the agents already re-assigned, the computer centre due to returned to its pre-FBI state the following morning.

  Anderson was allowed one more day to enjoy the dubious privilege of being an FBI consultant, then it was back to a lower rate of pay and no stylish jacket. Carter similarly had one more night of Terrill hospitality to endure before the promise of an early-morning flight to Panama, the FBI seemingly content to abandon him to his fate. Carter was annoyingly cheerful, some offshore bank account doubtless about to suffer a large withdrawal, the stress of the past week needing to put behind him.

  Rachel Flores would have to try and do the same, the FBI first teasing out everything they could from her time with McDowell. Imprisoned in a windowless room, there had been no obvious indication as to the type of house or where it might be, and the journey from her home and back to D.C. had taken well over an hour each time, no sense as to the direction or any audible cues. The FBI’s profilers would now be attempting to match her evidence to what they already knew about McDowell’s preferences: a Virginia house or farm, isolated yet close to good road links, bought or rented around the same time as Terrill. If that didn’t work, they’d spread the net wider, trusting that McDowell wouldn’t choose to break the mould by hiding out somewhere unexpected, like a commune in the heart of Baltimore or a houseboat on the Potomac. Carter had made an off-hand comment about McDowell lying on a beach – that too would be added into the mix.

  For some reason McDowell was still close at hand, his FBI contact and the conspiracy’s banker sacrificed for what had to be more than just Carter’s freedom. It was a bargain which Jensen might have cause to regret, no doubt prejudiced by the fear that political manoeuvring could well free Carter anyway. The actual names of those given up by McDowell were considered well outside of Anderson’s reduced role and even his computer access had been restricted to that of a visitor. Flores had been apologetic, unwilling to speculate as to why Anderson was out in the cold – but at least he wasn’t being put on a plane to Panama. Despite being reminded as to the dire consequences of revealing anything of his time at Terrill, Anderson was already working on a piece for The Washington Post, drawing comparisons between Golubeva and Deangelo and their respectiv
e routes to power.

  The FBI had insisted on extracting a final day’s work out of Carter, Anderson supervising, two agents remaining at Terrill to ensure he didn’t disappear off somewhere. Overall, it was a pretty pointless exercise, Carter unwilling to do anything too onerous, the two agents more interested in watching the TV downstairs than listening to Anderson’s woes.

  Carter sat at the workstation two along from Anderson, official duties completed, his time now spent investigating the delights of Panama. Like Anderson he had been logged on as a visitor, no-one concerned that he could do anything too outrageous – but just to be sure, everything related to the data link to the Hoover Building had already been deleted.

  Anderson mostly ignored him, busy researching his Post article, relevant pages sent to his phone for later perusal; he had most of the content already sorted in his mind, just needing a few more facts to draw it all together rather more effectively. Or that had been the plan, Anderson having to swap focus once the House of Representatives abruptly chose to lead the fight back against Dick Thorn.

  The news article was barely minutes old, Anderson needing to read it several times to grasp the complex constitutional processes that were being used to block Thorn’s confirmation. If the President wanted to use his executive powers to confirm Thorn as Secretary of Defence – through a recess appointment – then the Senate had to actually be in recess. An adjournment of longer than three days had once been the accepted norm, later increased to ten by a Supreme Court ruling; however, in order for either House to adjourn for more than three days, it needed the other’s approval.

  With a seventeen-day recess for Thanksgiving on the calendar, the House of Representatives had voted not to give the required consent and the Senate would now be forced into holding pro forma sessions every third day, a single senator going into the empty chamber and banging the gavel, no formal business completed.

  The article detailed various precedents, Anderson shocked to realise he probably now knew far more about the U.S. Constitution than the UK’s diverse set of laws and conventions. The Republican-dominated House of Representatives had clearly thrown down the gauntlet to Thorn and his supporters, the ones still camped out in the National Mall likely to be stocking up with their eggs and expletives.

  Anderson’s musings were interrupted as the computer screen in front of him abruptly changed to show a man’s photograph, his personal profile detailed alongside. Confused, Anderson tried to return to the news page but without success, the screen acting as if frozen.

  “David Solomon,” explained Carter, as though just making conversation, “Pat’s so-called banker, except he’s actually a hedge fund manager. It’s just as I’ve always said: the money came from targeting specific investments, Solomon the frontman. Most of the info is copied from the FBI’s recent research into Solomon, the rest picked up here and there – I’ve kept it to the basics.”

  Anderson glanced to his right, Carter still apparently focused on Panama City. With most of Terrill’s security system offline and the two agents otherwise occupied downstairs, there was little real need for such a charade; but then that was just Carter’s style, always wanting to add a bit of drama to everything, always keen to impress.

  Anderson took the easy option and simply went with the flow; there seemed no advantage in ignoring Carter’s help and plenty of reasons to accept it – he just had to trust the information in front of him was genuine. The fact Carter was still able to hack into the FBI’s data centre was impressive but also slightly worrying. Anderson briefly condemned himself for sinking to McDowell’s level, then moved on, determined to get as much out of Carter as possible. For some reason, simply reading it all off the screen seemed less of a crime then copying the data to his phone and Anderson tried to memorise the key facts as quickly as he could, concerned as to how much longer it would be before Carter’s hacking skills got them both into trouble.

  To his disappointment, there was nothing that dramatic or controversial, and no obvious link to the other key players. A joint DHS-FBI team had raided Solomon’s Manhattan office within an hour of Carter passing on McDowell’s two names and he was still being questioned, charges of money-laundering the least of his worries. Most of the financial information was well over Anderson’s head, unsure even of the difference between a hedge fund manager and a stock broker. Still single at 39, Solomon’s one aim in life appeared to be that of making money and in the six years he’d been working for himself, he had built up an enviable reputation as someone who could balance risk with profit, and as yet there was nothing to indicate he was either corrupt or involved in anything illegal.

  “One specific hedge fund seems to be the FBI’s main focus,” said Carter, for once sounding vaguely enthusiastic. “There’s a client list plus separate profiles on each person; that’s as much as I could get without it being traced back to Terrill, so it’s okay to take your time.”

  Anderson took Carter at his word, finishing off with Solomon to then view details of the hedge fund. The initial analysis by the FBI’s financial experts suggested that while it had made some gains over the past six months it was nothing extreme, the profits duly accounted for with no evidence they had been used to fund McDowell’s campaign. If Solomon had been involved in other – more secret – investments, then that would obviously take time to determine, weeks at best, maybe never.

  Anderson started to work his way through the individual FBI profiles for the hedge fund’s five members; he wasn’t looking for anything specific, just wanting to get some background as to the type of client Solomon favoured, hoping to see some sort of trend other than the fact they were all billionaires. It was only when he reached the last name that the information became far more intriguing, an FBI analyst also highlighting certain details. Anderson recognised the name simply because it had been in the news, never once guessing that the man might have some obscure connection to Pat McDowell.

  Yang Kyung-Jae: Taiwan national, worth in excess of three billion dollars, his fortune made as a property developer of large-scale commercial projects. Yang had become something of an Anglophile, spending a good proportion of his time in England; now that faith had been cruelly repaid, the bloodbath at his country house beside the Thames still attracting daily media attention in the UK a week after the event.

  The FBI had dug deeper, Yang politically astute yet not actively involved in politics, a generous proportion of his wealth spent on good causes in Taiwan and the UK. If it hadn’t been for the fact and tone of Yang’s murder, then the Bureau’s interest would easily have roamed elsewhere; now, ever so slowly, the precise nature of the conspiracy was becoming clearer, the Taiwan connection perhaps helping explain America’s more assertive policy towards China. The other members of the hedge fund were spread across the world, one each from America, the Philippines, Russia, and South Korea, all perhaps with good cause to be worried by China’s creeping invasion of the South China Sea or its claims on Russia’s Far East.

  A word to Carter and the data was instantly deleted with no trail left as to their meddling. It just worried Anderson that McDowell and Carter were being so helpful, their motive unclear. McDowell might well have had nothing to do with Ritter’s death and he would have been hard-pressed to reach Bray in time to have murdered Yang – which could imply it had more to do with self-preservation or vengeance than a sudden desire to do the right thing.

  Anderson remained unconvinced, fearful that he was merely being played by McDowell. The deal accepted by Jensen was hardly perfect, and McDowell and Carter could easily resume their working relationship once the latter was safely ensconced in Panama. In a day or a week, McDowell would again make his presence felt, of that Anderson was certain, the two of them not yet finished treading on each other’s toes.

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