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Son of perdition, p.2
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       Son of Perdition, p.2

           Wendy Alec
 

  ‘We’re locked out all right,’ Powell muttered.

  ‘Everyone?’ Maxwell raised his eyebrows.

  ‘Every computer. All three floors. Three hundred and eighteen workstations, to be precise. We’ve been completely taken over. And something . . . someone is downloading all our files.’ Powell paused. ‘Out of the building.’

  ‘Hackers?’

  ‘Nah. Too sophisticated. Locked out by a program I’ve never seen before.’ Powell shook his head. ‘And I’ve seen everything.’

  Maxwell rose, walking briskly through to the expansive open-plan office floor, followed by Powell and Cox.

  He scanned the computer screens as he walked, then glanced up towards the glass doors of the boardroom where the Managing Director and two general partners of the securities brokerage firm were engaged in intense conversation.

  ‘You’ve informed Morgan?’

  ‘Conference call with Europe. No disturbances,’ Powell replied.

  ‘Okay, I’ll tell him via the in-house line.’ Maxwell walked back into his office and slid into his expensive leather chair, his eyes still riveted to the computer screen. He moved to press the in-house line, then hesitated.

  The files were still downloading.

  He was supposed to be in the dark, but he’d been tracking the abnormal traffic since the 6th of September.

  Over $200 million in illegal transactions had been rushed through the Neal Black WTC computers in the past forty-eight hours alone.

  Then there was the single five-billion-dollar Treasury note trade that von Duysen had mentioned over drinks yesterday.

  He looked through the glass doors of his office over to the boardroom, troubled.

  It was connected with Europe. The Powers that were never to be disobeyed. Of that he was certain.

  Maxwell tapped the key of his keyboard impatiently, then stared back at his computer.

  There was no doubt about it. An extensive financial ‘sacking’ operation was in process.

  Someone was covering their tracks. Every file was being downloaded out of the building at lightning speed. Out of the system. ‘But where to? And why?’

  He picked up his lukewarm coffee and walked towards the window to gaze out at the clear Manhattan skies.

  He frowned. There was a strange sound. If it wasn’t so ludicrous, he’d swear it was the roar of jet engines.

  He turned his head to the left and the coffee cup slid out of his hand onto the elegant Berber carpet.

  The 767 was headed straight towards him.

  TWENTY YEARS LATER

  Chapter One

  Allah’s Chariot

  December 2021

  Cistern Number 30, Temple Mount, Jerusalem

  ‘Grandfather! Grandfather!’ Jul Mansoor tugged on the old Bedouin’s tunic as his grandfather walked doggedly through the maze of cistern entries down towards Warren’s Gate.

  ‘Grandfather!’ he cried. ‘We should not be here – it is forbidden territory – the radiation!’ Abdul-Qawi turned, frowning at his thirteen-year-old grandson. He raised his gnarled hands in the air in exasperation, then unclipped a hand-held radiation meter from his belt and held it up. Suddenly his leathered face broke into a broad toothless smile.

  ‘Hah! No radiation!’ he exclaimed. ‘It is the UN’s – how do you say – spin? The radiation is in Tel Aviv – in Jaffa, not in Jerusalem.’

  ‘The soldiers will stop us, Grandfather.’

  ‘Do you see the Israelis? Do you even see the Wakf?’ Abdul-Qawi gestured dramatically at the cordoned-off and deserted Mount. He spat on the ground, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

  ‘They are all gone – gone – since the war ended.’

  The old man continued walking the 150 feet towards the Gate.

  ‘The soldiers are gone – but YOU are still trespassing, Jadd.’

  At the sound of his name in Arabic, Abdul-Qawi halted.

  ‘Ah!’ He flung his hands in the air, this time in despair. ‘Private school – European tutors – all it teaches you is to disrespect your grandfather. Now let your Jadd be your teacher.’ He turned to face Jul, his hands on his scrawny hips.

  ‘This old Bedouin archaeologist knows that at this very moment the Israelis and the Wakf lie dead and wounded in hospitals all across Jerusalem while the Europeans recline in their opulent palaces – dividing the Mount as we speak.’

  He raised one hand dramatically.

  ‘This for the Jews – this for the Arabs – this for the UN. Pah! We take our chance.’

  He pointed to the rubble ahead of them.

  ‘The Israelis and the Wakf sealed the Gate – the earthquake has unsealed it. For the sake of Allah – for the sake of my archaeological diggings these past sixty-five years – I must search.’

  Carefully, the old man began to climb through the rubble and into a great hall about seventy-five feet long with many exit tunnels running in different directions. His hawk-like eyes glittered with excitement.

  ‘Hurry, hurry.’ He gestured impatiently to Jul, who was ten feet behind him, and started clambering down the stone stairs.

  Then he stopped, lit his lamp and hunched down over a crumpled map.

  Jul sighed. Suddenly, the old man clasped his free hand so tightly the boy winced.

  ‘The Holy of Holies!’ Abdul-Qawi’s eyes shone with a strange ecstasy. Trembling, he clambered to his feet and scuttled through fresh rubble towards an already-excavated tunnel.

  His gaze was fixed thirty feet away on a glistening golden object jutting out of a small ravine.

  Tentatively Abdul-Qawi stepped closer, waving his grandson back behind him.

  Awestruck, he stared at the glistening metal.

  ‘Allah’s Chariot,’ he murmured.

  He continued walking, muttering to himself in Arabic as though in a hypnotic trance until he was only inches away from the ornate gold handle protruding from the sand. He reached out his hand, trembling.

  Jul watched in awe as Abdul-Qawi gripped the handle. Instantly a bolt of blue lightning leapt from the casket.

  ‘Allah Akbar!’ Abdul screamed as the savage electric current surged through his body. Jul watched in horror as his grandfather’s body thrashed violently from side to side in paroxysm.

  ‘Jadd!’ Jul ran towards him.

  The old man stared at Jul through terrified eyes. Then, summoning all his strength, he wrenched his hand free from the casket and was thrown violently to the ground.

  Jul pulled him through the rubble, away from the pulsating chest.

  ‘Jadd . . . Jadd!’ Jul cradled his grandfather’s head in his trembling,hands, tears rolling down his mud-streaked face.

  Abdul raised himself up, then uttered a strangled cry. ‘The seal of Daniel.’

  And fell back.

  Struck dead by the Ark of the Covenant.

  Chapter Two

  Aftermath

  Jason

  December 2021, VOX Communications Yacht, Upper New York Bay

  It was the fourth of VOX Entertainment Group’s illustrious PR launch campaigns in that week alone.

  And the most lavish.

  Despite the below-freezing temperatures, New York was in the mood for celebration. As was Jason De Vere, Chairman and owner of the VOX multibillion-dollar media corporation.

  The Third World War had ended two months ago after the nuclear strike on Moscow by the West. The constant threat of a retaliatory strike in downtown New York was now a swiftly fading memory and Manhattan’s countless multinational conglomerates were tentatively resurfacing.

  The lowest deck of the largest of Jason De Vere’s five corporate yachts was literally heaving with middle-aged Wall Street financiers, hedge-fund owners, ageing TV news anchors and entertainment agents. They crammed the dance floor, mingling with the crème de la crème of New York’s twenty- and thirty-something elites in the television, fashion and publishing industries – all gyrating to the pounding music.

  Jason De Vere had arrived by heli
copter ten minutes earlier. An unusual occurence, which those who worked with him intimately knew could only be accounted for by the attendance of five billionaire Beijing media-investors who were involved in Jason’s latest venture, the launch of VOX’s multiple media networks and film conglomerates into China.

  At forty-four, Jason De Vere was still ruggedly handsome but already well worn. His tanned face was creased and his cropped greying hair unbecomingly severe.

  As was his current demeanour.

  Whisky glass in hand, he was gyrating awkwardly in the centre of the dance floor, in the clutches of an overtanned blonde.

  He glanced around. They were all so young. Nearer his daughter Lily’s age than his. Where had time gone? The blonde, VOX’s latest music awards presenter, entwined her arms more intensely around his neck, now making it completely impossible for Jason to drain the last swig from his glass.

  ‘Damn the need for PR.’ Desperately he scanned the room for his personal assistant of nineteen years – fifty-seven-year-old Miss Jontil Purvis, originally from Charleston, South Carolina.

  Jontil was completely indispensable to Jason. She had joined VOX at its inception and rough ridden through the hectic and chaotic start-up years. Over the past two decades she had been involved in the exhausting task of trying to make every aspect of Jason De Vere’s unrelenting existence manageable:from the complexity of his multi-billion dollar mergers to organizing Lily De Vere’s hospitalization and therapy after her accident, to finalizing the details of Jason and Julia’s acrimonious and highly publicized divorce.

  Jontil had given Jason the cold shoulder for a full year during the separation. She had adored Julia St Cartier since she had first met Jason’s sparky young journalist wife nineteen years previously. She and Julia had forged a deep friendship and Jontil was loyal to a fault. She was also a devout Baptist who fervently believed in the sanctity of marriage. And believed in Jason and Julia. She also believed in his youngest brother Nick. Jason scowled. Jontil had no intention of making it easy for him, that much he was sure of. But she kept her opinions to herself and he trusted her implicitly. Jason De Vere trusted very few.

  He finally spotted her standing in the corner with her ever-present BlackBerry, two notebooks in her left hand, her matronly figure attired in a silk lilac suit. ‘Purvis!’ Jason shouted over his shoulder. ‘Purvis!’

  Jontil looked up from her call, assessed Jason’s predicament, then disappeared.

  A split second later, a gangly brunette extricated Jason from the blonde’s grasp. She clasped his arm tightly, barely able to contain her excitement. Guiding him over to the cocktail bar, she pressed a remote screen and a man’s face appeared.

  ‘Jason . . . ’ She pushed the screen toward him. ‘Matt’s on the line from Teheran – it’s your brother. We’ve got the exclusive – breaking news. The final date’s just been set for the peace accord. This is a goer, Jason.’

  He grasped her arm hard. ‘The Ishtar Accord . . . you’re sure?’

  She nodded vigorously.

  Jason pulled his BlackBerry from his belt and scrolled down until he reached a message that had been sent over an hour earlier.

  ‘Iran conceded. Ishtar Accord. Jan 7. Your scoop. EXCLUSIVE.’

  ‘Damn!’ Jason pushed her aside.

  His eyes bored into the image of Matt Barton, VOX’s Teheran Bureau Chief on the screen. ‘Matt, what’s going on?’

  ‘There’s virtually nothing left here, Chief. Teheran’s the only city left standing. Mashhad, Tabriz – incinerated. Direct nuclear strikes. But the Iranians have still been as stubborn as hell. Until your brother arrived. They conceded an hour ago. It’s confirmed. The Accord’s set to coincide with the opening of the United Nations in Babylon. Three weeks’ time.’

  ‘Babylon, not Damascus?’ Jason raised his eyebrows. Interesting. He frowned. ‘And Israel?’

  ‘Intractable as always. I’ll let Melanie give you the lowdown.’

  Melanie Kelly, VOX’s senior Middle East Correspondent, came into view.

  ‘Israel is prepared to denuclearize, sir. We’re sure.’

  ‘How sure is sure?’

  ‘As sure as sure can ever be, O great tycoon, but the rumour is your genius of a little brother has somehow got pre-signatures from Israel dependent on some major concessions known only to himself – you know how cagey he is. Anyway – trust me – Iran’s in. Israel will be in by next week. It’s watertight. We go on air in ten.’

  Jontil Purvis placed her hand calmly on Jason’s arm.

  ‘VOX Central’s online, sir. They’re waiting for you downstairs.’

  Jason snapped off the small TV, then strode down the spiral stairs into the lower deck executive quarters, stopping outside a leather-covered door.

  ‘Lily,’ he spoke into the system and held up his palm for verification. A second later, the door swung open. He walked over to the vast bank of television monitors that straddled one entire wall of the deck.

  The transmission controller flicked a switch and the VOX Manhattan broadcast centre came online. A twenty-five-year-old with a West Coast tan and long highlighted hair came into view.

  ‘Hi boss – we’re up linking your brother live on VOX any second.’

  ‘Turn it UP.’ Jason threw his jacket down on the plush black leather sofa and slowly rolled up his shirt sleeves, his gaze locked on the TV screen.

  Jontil Purvis stood in the doorway watching her boss intently. Twenty years in the business and he still got a high when it was live and exclusive – Jason De Vere was in his element when he was hands on.

  Jason watched as New York lined up.

  ‘Ten . . . nine – ’

  ‘Jason – we’ve got China – ’

  ‘Where’s Al Jazeera?’ Jason shouted into the mike.

  ‘Just come online – ’

  A lanky Ivy-League-looking executive strode in, exhilarated. ‘They’re all desperate for the feed – Reuters, Associated Press, CNN, ABC – ’

  ‘We make money.’ Jason muttered. ‘Good. Desperate is good. The BBC?’

  ‘We’re linking to London now – over to Mel in Teheran.’

  Melanie Kelly, Middle East Correspondent, visible on two screens, cupped her hand over her earpiece. Next to her stood Adrian De Vere, newly inaugurated President of the European Union.

  Jason stared, exhilarated. ‘Tell my little brother hi,’ he murmured into the mike.

  ‘Will do, boss.’

  Jason watched – Adrian smiled and lifted his hand in recognition.

  ‘Ask him if Israel’s in the bag.’

  Adrian nodded, then gave Jason a thumbs-up sign.

  Jason grinned, then held out his hand to Jontil. She passed him a whisky. He slugged it down, his attention now fixed on the New York news anchor broadcasting from VOX’s midtown Manhattan Studios.

  ‘We have breaking news that a final date for the Middle East Ishtar Accord – the peace accord in the aftermath of World War Three – has been set half an hour ago in Teheran.’

  Jason sat down on the sofa, his eyes fixed on the screens.

  ‘All major participants from the Russo-pan-Arab-Israeli War are signatories. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Egypt as well as Russia, Israel, America and the European Union. We cross over to Melanie Kelly, senior Middle East correspondent for VOX News, reporting live from Teheran.’

  The camera zoomed onto the slight blonde figure of Kelly.

  ‘With me here in Teheran, I have the United Nations chief negotiator of the Accord and newly appointed President of the European Superstate, Adrian De Vere. At just thirty-nine years of age, he is being hailed as the new John F. Kennedy ’

  As the camera panned onto Adrian De Vere, Jason watched, elated.

  ‘This is a historic day in the history of the Middle East and the world.’ Adrian smiled, exuding a relaxed charm.

  Jason studied his younger brother. Adrian’s face was perfectly proportioned for the camera. Strong. Chiselled. High cheek bones. His suit was exquisitely
tailored and he wore his usual summer Caribbean tan.

  Jason frowned.

  Adrian’s teeth looked different, perfectly veneered and whiter. Julia’s influence, no doubt. Her PR company had signed up the newly inaugurated President of the European Union. Jason scowled. After twenty years of marriage he was proud of the fact that, until their divorce, he had stubbornly resisted her every attempt to restyle him. But even he had to admit that, thanks to the efforts of his ex-wife, Adrian was now the epitome of a modern movie star.

  ‘Both the East and the West have longed for the day when we can rest in peace, knowing that our families and future generations will no longer face the threat of nuclear warfare . . . of suicide bombs . . . of hostages being murdered . . . ’ Adrian hesitated. ‘Of the sons of the East and the sons of the West being killed in action.’

  Jason shook his head. It had to be said. Never in the history of television had any politician come remotely close to the intense personal connection that Adrian generated with the individual viewer.

  It was instantaneous, mesmeric . . . and effortless.

  Adrian De Vere was the darling of the international viewing public. It had been the same during his two terms as British Prime Minister. Whether people watched him in Iraq, Syria, Germany, England, America, China or France, he was their son, father, brother, neighbour, friend. In fact he was . . . Jason shook his head, incredulous . . . whoever they wanted him to be.

  He finished his whisky. And his eye caught the headline on the business section of the New York Times. It read: ‘European Union’s 2021 GDP set to double the USA’s.’

  ‘My little brother . . . ’ Jason murmured, his eyes riveted to the screen. ‘The most powerful man in the Western World.’

  * * *

  Nick

  December 2021, Soho, London

  Nick De Vere leaned back in the red crocodile-skin chair. He was handsome, almost pretty, with intelligent deep-set grey eyes, an aquiline nose and high cheekbones. His sunbleached hair grazed the collar of his leather jacket.

  He sipped his espresso, enjoying the clamour of A&R executives, record producers, artists and rock star wannabees that milled around the bar.

 
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