The Cassandra Sanction, p.1Scott Mariani
Join the army of fans who LOVE Scott Mariani’s Ben Hope series …
‘Ben is a fantastic character – flawed, imperfect but totally believable’
‘Fast-paced and utterly absorbing’
‘The action keeps you gripped until the last page and has you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Ben Hope is as brilliant as ever’
‘Twists and turns keep you hooked till the end. Keep them coming Scott’
‘I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!’
‘Ben Hope back at his best’
‘One of the best series of our time!’
‘Scott never fails to impress. Five stars are not enough’
‘A fast-paced thriller which is impossible to put down’
‘The Ben Hope series is back with a bang. All action, fast paced and slicker than ever, I just can’t get enough!’
‘Scott Mariani seamlessly weaves the history and action together’
‘Scott Mariani never fails to thrill’
‘Incredible nonstop action and terrific characters’
‘An action packed, thrilling mission impossible that keeps you turning the pages’
‘Excellent addition to a thrilling and entertaining series’
‘This will keep you pinned down in your seat and your blood racing!’
‘Mariani just gets better and better’
‘Once again Scott Mariani thrills us with Ben Hope and his unique style of action and thrills’
The Cassandra Sanction
Published by Avon an imprint of
1 London Bridge Street,
London SE1 9GF
This ebook edition published by HarperCollins Publishers 2016
Copyright © Scott Mariani 2016
Cover design © Henry Steadman 2016
Scott Mariani asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.
A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library.
This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins.
Source ISBN: 9780007486199
Ebook Edition © January 2016 ISBN: 9780007486380
‘Even in scientific circles, it is not easy to expunge an erroneous conclusion if it has been cited enough times.’
Professor Ronald T. Merril, University of Washington
‘A smart man only believes half of what he hears; a wise man knows which half.’
Col. Jeff Cooper, United States Marine Corps
Read on for an exclusive extract from Star of Africa
About the Author
By the Same Author
About the Publisher
Baltic coast, northern Germany
The woman sitting at the wheel of the stationary car was thirty-four years of age but looked at least five years younger. Her hair was long and black. Her face was one that was well known to millions of people. She was as popular for her looks as she was for her intellect, her sharp wit and her professional credentials, and often recognised wherever she ventured out in public.
But she was alone now. She’d driven many miles to be as far away from anybody as she could, on this particular day.
This day, which was to be the last day of her life.
She’d driven the black Porsche Cayenne four-by-four off the coastal track and up a long incline of rough grass, patchy and flattened by the incessant sea wind, to rest stationary just metres from the edge of the chalk cliff. The Baltic Sea was hard and grey, unseasonably cold-looking for the time of year. With the engine shut off, she could hear the rumble and crash of the breakers against the rocks far below. Evening was drawing in, and the rising storm brought strong gusts of salt wind that buffeted the car every few seconds and rocked its body on its suspension. Rain slapped the windscreen and trickled down the glass, like the tears that were running freely down her face as she wept.
She had been sitting there a long time behind the wheel. Reflecting on her life. Picturing in turn the faces of those she was leaving behind, and thinking about how her loss would affect them. One, more than anybody.
She knew how badly she was going to hurt him by doing this. It would have been the same for her, if it had been the other way round.
Catalina Fuentes gazed out at the sea and whispered, ‘Forgive me, Raul.’
Then she slowly reached for the ignition and restarted the engine. She put the car into drive and gripped the wheel tightly. She took several deep breaths to steady her pounding heart and deepen her resolve. This was it. The time had come. Now she was ready.
The engine picked up as she touched the gas. The car rolled over the rough grass towards the cliff edge. Past the apex of the incline,
As the Porsche vaulted off the edge of the chalk cliff and began its long, twisting, somersaulting fall, Catalina Fuentes closed her eyes and bid a last goodbye to the life she’d known and all the people in it.
Ben Hope had been in the bar less than six minutes when the violence kicked off.
His being there in the first place had been purely a chance thing. For a man with nowhere in particular to be at any particular time and under no sort of pressure except to find a cool drink on a warm early October afternoon, the little Andalusian town of Frigiliana offered more than enough choice of watering holes to pick out at random, and the whitewashed bar tucked away in a corner of a square in the Moorish quarter had seemed like the kind of quiet place that appealed.
Pretty soon, it was looking like he’d picked the wrong one, at the wrong time. Of all the joints in all the pueblos of the Sierra Almijara foothills, he’d had to wander into this one.
He’d been picking up the vibe and watching the signs from the moment he walked in. But the beer looked good, and it was too late to change his mind, and he didn’t have anything better to do anyway, so he hung around mainly to see whether his guess would turn out right. Which it soon did.
The bar wasn’t exactly crowded, but it wasn’t empty either. Without consciously counting, he registered the presence of a dozen people in the shady room, not including the owner, a wide little guy in a faded polo shirt, who was lazily tidying up behind the bar and didn’t speak as he served Ben a bottle of the local cerveza. Ben carried his drink over to a shady corner table, dumped his bag and settled there with his back to the wall, facing the door, away from the other punters, where he could see the window and survey the rest of the room at the same time.
Old habits. Ben Hope was someone who preferred to observe than to be observed. He reclined in his chair and sipped his cool beer. The situation unfolding in front of him was a simple one, following a classic pattern he had witnessed more often and in more places in his life than he cared to count, like an old movie he’d seen so many times before. What was coming was as predictable and inevitable as the fact that he wasn’t just going to sit there and let it happen.
On the left side of the room, midway between Ben’s corner table and the bar, a guy was sitting alone nursing a half-empty tumbler and a half-empty bottle of Arehucas Carta Oro rum that he looked intent on finishing before he passed out. He was a man around his mid-thirties, obviously a Spaniard, lean-faced, with a thick head of glossy, tousled black hair and skin tanned to the colour of café con leche. His expression was grim, his eyes bloodshot. A four-day beard shaded his cheeks and his white shirt was crumpled and grubby, as if he’d been wearing it for a few days and sleeping in it too. But he didn’t have the look of a down-and-out or a vagrant. Just of a man who was very obviously upset and working hard to find solace in drink.
Ben knew all about that.
The Spanish guy sitting alone trying to get wrecked wasn’t the problem. Nor were the elderly couple at the table in the right corner at the back of the barroom, opposite Ben. The old man must have been about a thousand years old, and the way his withered neck stuck out of his shirt collar made Ben think of a Galapagos tortoise. His wife wasn’t much younger, shrivelled to something under five feet with skin like rawhide. The Moorish Sultans had probably still ruled these parts back when they’d started dating. Still together, still in love. Ben thought they looked like a sweet couple, in a wrinkly kind of way.
Nor, again, was any of the potential trouble coming from the man seated at a table by the door. With straw-coloured hair, cropped short and receding, he looked too pale and Nordic to be a local. Maybe a Swedish tourist, Ben thought. Or a Dane. An abstemious one, drinking mineral water while apparently engrossed in a paperback.
No, the source of the problem was right in the middle of the barroom, where two tables had been dragged untidily together to accommodate the noisy crowd of foreigners. It didn’t take much to tell they were Brits. Eight of them, all in their twenties, all red-faced from exuberance and the large quantity of local brew they were throwing down their throats. Their T-shirts were loud, their voices louder. Ben had heard their raucous laughter from outside. Their table was a mess of spilled beer and empty bottles, loose change and cigarette packs. To the delight of his mates, one of them clambered up on top of it and tried to do a little dance before he almost toppled the whole thing over and fell back in his chair, roaring like a musketeer. They weren’t as rowdy as some gangs of beery squaddies Ben had seen, but they weren’t far off it. The barman was casting a nervous eye at them as he weighed up the risks of asking them to leave against what they were spending in the place. Next, they broke into a chanting rendition of Y Viva España that was too much for the ancient couple in the right corner. The barman’s frown deepened as they made their shuffling exit, but he still didn’t say anything.
The Dane never looked up from his paperback, as if the noisy bunch didn’t even exist. Maybe he was hard of hearing, Ben thought, or maybe it was just a hell of an interesting book. The yobs gave him a cursory once-over, seemed to decide he wasn’t worth bothering with, and then turned their attention on the solitary Spaniard sitting drinking on the left side of the room. The response they’d managed to provoke out of the old folks had whetted their appetite for more. A chorus of faux-Spanish words and calls of ‘Hey, Pedro. Cheer up, might never happen’ quickly graduated into ‘You speaka da English?’; and from there into ‘Hey, I’m talking to you. You fucking deaf?’
They didn’t seem to notice Ben sitting watching from the shadows. All the better for them.
The lone Spaniard poured more rum and quietly went on drinking as the loutish calls from across the barroom grew louder. He was doing almost as good a job as the Dane of acting as if the yobs were just a mirage that only Ben, the barman and the elderly couple had been able to see. Or else, maybe he was just too drunk to register that the taunting was directed at him. Either way, if he went on ignoring them, there was a chance that the situation might dissipate away to nothing. The eight lads would probably just down a few more beers and then go staggering off down the street in search of a more entertaining venue, or local girls to proposition, or town monuments to urinate on. Just boys enjoying themselves on holiday.
But it didn’t happen that way, thanks to the big porker who’d been the first to call out to the Spaniard. He had gingery hair cropped in a bad buzzcut and a T-shirt a size too small for him with the legend EFF YOU SEE KAY OWE EFF EFF in block letters across his flabby chest. He nudged the guy sitting next to him and muttered something Ben didn’t catch, then turned his grin on the Spaniard and yelled out, ‘The fucking bitch ain’t worth it, mate.’
The atmosphere in the room seemed to change, like a sudden drop in pressure. Ben sensed it immediately. He wasn’t sure if the English boys had. Here it comes, he thought. He watched as the fingers clutching the Spaniard’s glass turned white. The Spaniard’s lips pursed and his brow creased. One muscle at a time, his face crumpled into a deep frown.
Then the Spaniard stood up. The backs of his legs shoved his chair back with a scraping sound that was as laden with portent as the look on his face. Still clutching his drink, he walked around the edge of his table and crossed the barroom floor towards the English boys. There was a lurch to his step, but he was able to keep a fairly straight line. There was something more than just anger in his eyes. Ben wasn’t sure if the English boys could see that, either.
The Dane was still sitting there glued to his book, apparently oblivious. Not like Ben.
‘I’m shitting my pants,’ said the big porker in a tremulous voice.
The Spaniard stopped three feet away from their table. The Arehucas Carta Oro was making him sway on his feet, not dramatically, but noticeably. He eyed the eight of them as if they were fresh dogshit, and then his gaze rested on the big porker.
Quietly, and in perfect English, he said, ‘My name isn’t Pedro. And you’re going to apologise for what you just called her.’
An outraged silence fell over the group. Ben was watching the big porker, whose grin had dropped and whose cheeks turned mottled red. The pack leader; and if he wanted to remain so, peer pressure now demanded that he make a good show of responding to this upstart who’d had the monstrous balls to stand up to him in front of his friends.
‘My mistake,’ the big porker said, meeting the Spaniard’s eye. ‘I shouldn’t have called her a bitch. I should’ve called her a cheap fucking dago whore slut cocksucker bitch. Because that’s what she is. Isn’t that right, Pedro?’
For a guy with the better part of a bottle of rum inside him, the Spaniard moved pretty fast. First, he dashed the contents of his tumbler at the big porker. Second, he hurled the empty tumbler against the table, where it burst like a grenade and showered the whole gang with glass. Third, he reached out and scooped up a cigarette lighter from the yobs’ table. Without hesitation, he thumbed the flint and tossed it at the big porker, whose T-shirt instantly caught light.
The big porker screamed and started clawing at his burning shirt. The Spaniard snatched a beer from the table and doused him with it. The big porker staggered to his feet and threw a wild punch that came at the Spaniard’s head in a wide arc. The Spaniard ducked out of the swing, then stepped back in with surprising speed and jabbed a straight right that caught the big porker full in the centre of his face and sent him crashing violently on his back against the table. Drinks and empty bottles capsized all over the floor.
The Dane still didn’t move, react or look up. This kind of thing must happen all the time where he lived.
The Cassandra Sanction by Scott Mariani / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes