Authors: Peter Tonkin
Now, however, Richard was just coming round from a three-hour power nap that had filled most of the flight time. It looked as though Robin was by no means the only one involved who was awake at an unusual hour â the rest of the team would all be up and about, ready to head for their final meeting place at the obscure airport of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. The team's general make-up was long-decided in case of such an event, but its actual personnel was something else again.
To go with Plan A, the personnel assembling at pick-up points all over the world were, of course
The A Team
. The name amused Richard, his ready smile widening at the memory of what Robin had thought about the hackneyed
nom de guerre
. With a gleam of her teeth and flash of her eyes, the flight attendant smoothed her skirt over her hips and swayed up the aisle towards him once again. Black-haired, blue-eyed giants with square jaws and fascinatingly theatrical scars didn't often appear in her experience. And this one had a deep, growling voice that made something profound within her seem to melt whenever she heard it. But even though the dark-haired passenger's dazzling blue eyes were precisely level with her crisply covered bust and the button straining at its cleavage, he remained disappointingly fixated on his computer with occasional glances out at the overcast skies hanging low above Moscow. So she swept past with a little moue of disappointment and he never even realized she had looked at him with anything more than purely professional interest.
But Richard had more than enough to occupy his mind. The A Team, personally identified or not, were carefully selected, fully briefed, cutting edge and at the tip top of their game. They were men who had been chosen by Richard, Felix Makarov of Sevmash and his associate, the security expert Ivan Yagula. Others, further afield, had been chosen by Nic Greenbaum of Greenbaum International and the CEOs of the Japanese consortia involved in the making and maintenance of
herself; the oversight, loading and unloading of her potentially explosive cargo. Comprising ex-special forces, ships engineers, liquid gas experts and computer experts, they were ready, willing and able to meet any threat of any kind to any aspect of
's hull, systems, cargo, control or integrity. Their existence and constant readiness for action were two of the most important aspects of the case Heritage Mariner, Mitsubishi and NIPEX had been forced to make to the International Maritime Organization and their insurers, Lloyd's of London â not to mention to the American, Russian and Japanese governments through whose jurisdictions the revolutionary, unmanned vessel was programmed to sail. Any flaw in their emergency response and
would be banned from national and international waters without a second thought or any chance of appeal.
There were a couple of ships' engineers from Mitsubishi's shipyards in Kobe en route to Sapporo, briefed to come north to meet the others within the next twelve hours. With them were the computer experts who had designed the ship's systems â part of a cooperative group that had brought Mitsubishi and Fujitsu together. The Fujitsu men were headquartered at the Riken Advanced Institute for Computational Science, which was in Kobe as well. Their current focus, however, was less upon
than their next project â the floating city of Kujukuri which was taking shape in the bay below the NIPEX terminal.
These two teams would be met at Sapporo by the NIPEX team responsible for the oversight of the Liquified Natural Gas cargo â one of the safest cargoes currently carried at sea in its present state within the modified Moss-type spherical tanks at minus 160 degrees Celsius. Then they were booked to fly up to the meeting place at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Greenbaum International would also be flying LNG experts from Anchorage and Vancouver to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky by company jet as there were no scheduled flights they could use.
But the engineers, computer experts and gas men were by no means at the top of Richard's wish-list; and of course he never gave a second thought to their work on the floating city. Although in his heart of hearts he believed this to be a surprise security exercise, NIPEX's loss of control was a serious matter whichever way you looked at it, unless the men on board were all accomplished sailors with a competent captain in command. And Richard had seen all too clearly what the bright orange figures revealed by the infra-red had been wearing and carrying. They appeared to have gone aboard heavily armed â and he was among the last men on earth to get caught bringing a knife to a gun fight. If Sam Mendes, director of the play he'd missed at the Old Vic last night as well as of the most successful Bond film of all time, could ever be persuaded to make a movie of what Richard was planning instead of the next in the James Bond franchise, it wouldn't be called
. It would be called
Richard's thoughts jumped twenty miles ahead as he felt the plane settle on to its short finals to Moscow's Domodedovo International airport. When he suggested that his Russian associate Felix Makarov might smooth things over at Domodedovo, he had only been half serious. He had documentation that would whisk him through with silken speed. But Domodedovo was more than just a stopover. It was the pick-up point for the ultimate â and perhaps the most important â section of the A Team. The most problematical one, and the only one whose details were not yet on his laptop's capacious memory.
Heritage Mariner's Russian partners in a wide range of enterprises were Bashnev/Sevmash, a consortium whose wealth and influence were based on oil, gas, electricity and nuclear power. Their various networks covered the old Soviet Union, controlling pipelines, electricity grids and road tankers, as well as the ocean-going ones they co-owned with Heritage Mariner. The two companies shared interests in oil-producing areas from the icy wastes of the Artcic to the burning heart of Africa, though the emphasis of the Russian company was on extraction while Heritage Mariner's was on transport. Within Russia, however, Bashnev/Sevmash's fleets of trucks delivered everything in the containers Heritage Mariner shipped for them: individual machines, motorcars, parcels and packages.
Not to mention the fact that they had enormous political and legal power. Felix Makarov was the head of Sevmash, but his friend and long-time business partner Max Asov, CEO of Bashnev Oil and Power, had been killed not long ago and replaced by his daughter, Anastasia. It was a succession in the world of Russian corporate empires that was almost unheard of. But under the joint leadership of Felix, Max and â latterly â Anastasia, the Russians had also expanded into even less traditional areas. It was Bashnev/Sevmash who supplied the ground-breaking floating power station
on lease to the Japanese government, powering the half-built floating city. The expansion of the business necessitated an expansion of safety measures, and so Bashnev/Sevmash's latest acquisition was a company headed by the man who was now their own head of security. It was called Risk Incorporated. And it was to Risk Incorporated that Richard turned when he needed the kind of men who knew how to counter the type of weapons the men on board
seemed to be armed with.
Risk Incorporated was the Blackstone of the new Russia. Staffed by ex-special forces operatives, all further trained to the highest possible level, it was a âgo anywhere, meet any crisis' organization. And it needed to be. London Centre, Heritage Mariner's commercial intelligence arm, had briefed Richard on more than one occasion recently that it was Risk Incorporated which was watching out for Bashnev Oil and Power in particular during the dangerous days of succession in the boardroom while the new CEO settled into her late father's chair. There were rumours that the sharks were circling. And not just Russian sharks, by all accounts â everyone from the world's most powerful oil and gas corporations to the Mafia.
As the A380's wheels touched the surface of the main runway and her turbofans went into reverse thrust, Richard leaned back and hoped that whoever else was waiting in Domodedovo's VIP lounge would have the crÃ¨me de la crÃ¨me of Risk Incorporated's hard men with them. Although he had joked to Robin about Plan B he really did not want to have to fall back on Harry and the Pitman. But still, he thought, as the jet slowed to taxiing speed and swung in towards the terminal, it might be as well to get the pair of them lined up. And, perhaps, to let the others at Domodedovo know there was a Plan B too.
No sooner had Richard walked into the arrivals hall than a familiar figure confronted him. A huge young man stood serenely surrounded by security staff. He had a fashionably shaven head that revealed a long, muscular cranium. He was suited in single-breasted, mid-grey gabardine, shirted in white cotton, wearing a gold silk tie with a Windsor knot. All this was visible between the wings of a long black cashmere overcoat with a silk lining the colour of blood. The gold tie had no regimental crests, but there was the familiar Batman logo of the Spetsnaz special forces honourable discharge pin just visible on the lapel above his heart. The eyes were mid-blue and twinkling with good humour. The full, sensual lips quivered towards a smile as he swept forward, and the surprisingly fine nostrils flared. âAh, there you are. Bang on time,' he said in cut-glass Sandhurst English.
âHello, Ivan,' said Richard, striding forward to shake the massive Russian's hand. It was the very man he had just been thinking of: Ivan Yagula, Head of Risk Incorporated, Bashnev/Sevmash's new security chief and Anastasia's new partner â in more ways than one.
âI have people waiting to pick up your bags,' said Ivan as he swept Richard out of the customs hall with only the faintest glance towards baggage claim. âYou have a five-hour stopover, but there's a lot we need to get done. It's breakfast time here but I wouldn't bother adjusting your watch. You've a good few more time zones to cross yet. Felix Makarov is here in person, and he has a large number of people that he would like you to meet. They are, I think you'll find, just what the doctor ordered.'
âA doctor of military strategy, I hope,' countered Richard.
Ivan gave a grunt of laughter. âYes.' He nodded. âNow you mention it, they are the kind of men who give doctors of medicine full employment. Doctors and undertakers â¦'
ichard pushed his plate away, knowing that Robin would have disapproved of the massive
of steak and chips he had just consumed. He was equally well aware that he should have contacted her again â but had omitted to do so, with malice aforethought, like a schoolboy playing truant.
Felix Makarov reached for the last of the Stolichnaya
vodka that he favoured for both breakfast and lunch. âSo,' he rumbled, âyou are satisfied?' His gesture started with the remains of the steak then swept out to encompass this entire quarter of the VIP lounge's restaurant. Richard nodded as his gaze swept over the men seated around the table Richard and Felix were sharing with Ivan. Men who had assembled slowly during the time it had taken Felix to empty his vodka bottle. They were very much as Richard and Ivan had discussed. The kind who gave doctors more work than they wanted. For Richard's needs, however, they were just what the doctor ordered. They were a mixture in terms of their original training:
. Elite soldiers, the Russian equivalent to the Paras and the Green Berets. They all affected shaven heads like Felix and Ivan, and business suits, with the occasional lapel pin similar to Ivan's telling of regiment, decoration, honourable discharge. They all looked what they were â powerfully competent and extremely dangerous.
But the information downloaded from a memory stick Ivan had given him made it clear to Richard that their expertise was as wide as he could ever require. Although they were all alike, trained to the peak and ready for anything, he had weapons men, medics, engineers and communications men. Men with backgrounds in intelligence. A sergeant, a warrant officer and a lieutenant were in overall charge. Even in their business suits it was obvious that they made a solid squad. âThey've been to Chechnya â right across the Caucasus, North and South Ossetia, and lived to tell the tale. That's taken some doing, I can tell you. If the going gets tough, you stick by them. They'll never let you down.' Ivan emphasized, âExperienced, adaptable, trained to the top of any game in the world. Multilingual and exceptionally multitalented. They're not just the best we've got. They're simply the best there are.'
âLooks like we won't need the Pitman, then,' said Richard without thinking.
And looked up into a sudden silence; for his voice had carried across this area of the restaurant â and every eye was suddenly on the pair of them.
Felix was frowning, the only one there who did not seem to see the importance of what Richard had let slip. Even Ivan had lost some of his usual confident bonhomie. âThe
?' he probed. Less than happily, it should be said, leaning forward.
,' said Richard easily. âIf we have any trouble dealing with matters or getting our communications out, we have a back-up team. Harry Newbold and the Pitman. They work together out of Amsterdam, as I'm sure you know. They're everything we have here distilled and refined. A world-class mercenary and a world-class hacker. I've dealt with them before and, with the possible exception of your men, they are the best. I know they specialize in similar areas to those you focus on, but they're likely to cover any gaps in our defences one way or another. And I promise they'll only come if there's a problem we have trouble handling, especially as the other aspect of their reputation is that they are simply lethal.' He looked around the room, meeting each pair of eyes there. Only one strikingly grey pair held his for a moment longer than the rest, their gaze angry and suspicious.