Authors: William C. Dietz
Tags: #Science Fiction - Adventure, #Fiction - Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #Science Fiction - General, #action, #General, #Science Fiction And Fantasy
William C. Dietz
Copyright © 2007 by Eidos
Marjorie, thank you for the dance, and everything to come.
Many thanks to Thomas Howalt, Jesper Donnis, Peter Fleckenstein, Keith Clayton, Tim Mak, and Steve Saffel for their help and guidance in putting this book together.It would have been impossible without you!
THERHINERIVERVALLEY , NEARCOLOGNE,GERMANY
It was a beautiful summer day as Aristotle Thorakis walked out of the castle’s gloomy great room onto the sun splashed terrace, and looked down into theRhineRiver valley. The air smelled sweet and sunlight glittered like gold on the water as heavily laden boats churned past, headed in both directions. Many of the river craft were owned by families who lived on board, evidence of which could be seen in the playpens that occupied what little deck space there was and the gaily colored laundry that fluttered from lines rigged for that purpose.
It was an idyllic scene, and for one brief moment the international shipping magnate wished he were down there, standing behind the wheel of a heavily loaded freighter headed forBasel orAmsterdam . Such a life would be simpler, and in some ways more enjoyable, than the one he was living. His was a high-profile existence in which he was forever doomed to walk the slippery slopes of international finance while trying to protect both his lifestyle and the business empire founded by his grandfather. But sweet though the river life might appear from a hundred feet above, Thorakis knew how hard such an existence could be, and had no desire to give up the luxuries to which he and his family were accustomed.
“A penny for your thoughts,” Pierre Douay said as he appeared at the Greek’s elbow. The approach had been silent, notably so, and Thorakis gave an involuntary start.
“It’s a beautiful day,” the shipping magnate replied neutrally.
Douaynodded. The castle was the Frenchman’s, and though Thorakis had inherited his wealth, he knew thatDouay was a self-made man. Wealthy though the Greek was, it was
who had come begging, andDouay who would decide the shipping magnate’s fate.
“What do you think of it?”Douay inquired, as the other man took his first sip of the chilled Riesling.
“It’s dry,” Thorakis observed, “and crisp.Which is to say perfect for a day such as this. ” The fifty-two-year-old business tycoon had black hair streaked with gray, and a tight, “sculptured” face. Though he had been something of an amateur athlete in his younger days, the Greek had put on some extra pounds over the last few years—weight that a baggy black shirt was unable to conceal. Khaki pants and a pair of Gucci loafers, sans socks, completed the look.
Douay, by contrast, was ten years younger, rapier thin, and in excellent shape. With the exception of a thin black leather belt and the black sandals on his feet, the Frenchman was dressed entirely in white.
“I’m glad you like it,” he replied. “It comes from the Moselle valley, rather than theRhine . It’s the slaty soil that makes the difference.”
Thorakis had no idea what that meant, nor did he care, but didn’t say so as he sought a way to open the conversation that both men knew was coming.
“Some years are better than others,” the Greek observed thoughtfully.“For wine
“Yes,”Douay agreed soberly. “Who could have predicted that one of your tankers would run aground offPortugal , that a cruise liner would be lost to pirates,
that your CFO would be arrested?All in less than a year? It defies imagination! Come. Lunch is ready and we will have plenty of opportunity to talk about wine, women, and shipping.”
A linen-covered table had been set in the shade provided by a large canopy made out of blue and white striped canvas. The canopy rustled gently as a breeze blew down theRhine and caressed the castle’s stone walls.
Thorakis studied the table carefully. Though frequently given to excess where food was concerned, he had a severe allergy, and was therefore particular about what he ate. That was why a personal chef prepared most of the Greek’s meals when he was home, accompanied the shipping magnate wherever he went, and stood guard in the kitchen when Thorakis ate in restaurants. Having noted that the sleek-looking chef was there, standing a discreet distance away, the businessman knew the food would be safe as he took the chair oppositeDouay .
“To a long and profitable relationship,” the Frenchman said as he raised his glass. Yet rather than the bonhomie he might have expected to see inDouay ’s eyes, Thorakis saw something else instead. Something hard and calculating.
“Yes,” the Greek agreed, raising his own glass of Riesling. “Here’s to a long and profitable relationship.”
The glasses made a gentle clinking sound as they met, and there was a brief flurry of activity asDouay ’s servants hurried to serve the food. The first course consisted of chilled shrimp served on a bed of leafy greens and accompanied by a basket of crusty bread.
Rather than toying with Thorakis,Douay went right to the point. “So,” the Frenchman began, as he buttered a piece of bread. “I hope you won’t be offended by my directness…but how much money would be required to take care of your present difficulties?”
Though surprised by the other man’s bluntness, Thorakis was pleased, since he had been unsure of how to open the negotiations. He swallowed a bite of shrimp, chased it with a sip of wine, and dabbed his lips with a napkin.
“About 500 million euros would see us through.A secured loan mind you, with a five-year term.”
“That’s a lot of money,”Douay observed mildly. “But not
much, so long as the collateral is sufficient.” He paused, and looked directly at his guest as he added, “And if you’re willing to provide me with certain kinds of information.”
The first requirement was to be expected, but the second was unusual, and caused Thorakis to frown.
“Information? I don’t understand.”
“It’s really quite simple,” the Frenchman replied, as he speared a shrimp. “You sit on the board of directors for an organization known as The Agency. I have a similar relationship with a group you know as the
—or the Power Thirteen. As you are probably aware, the
has begun to challenge The Agency both in terms of market share and gross revenues. Nevertheless, a gap remains, at least for the moment.
“But with certain key information, supplied by you, it might be possible for our brand to dominate the market within months, rather than years.”
Suddenly the freshly baked bread seemed excessively dry, and Thorakis needed a mouthful of wine to wash it down.
His affiliation with The Agency centeredaround problems related to transport and logistics, and was supposed to be a secret. YetDouay knew.
Blood pounded in his temples and he felt the sudden need to urinate.
“That’s absurd,” the Greek said weakly. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, but I think you do,”Douay insisted, as he placed a folder of photographs on the table. “Here, look at these…pictures of you meeting with other members of The Agency’s board in Rio, going aboard one of the organization’s yachts in Cape Town, and exiting their private plane in Dallas.”
Thorakis took the time to compose himself as he removed two of the photos, examined them, and produced a shrug as he tossed them back onto the table.
“I know all sorts of people. If they happen to be associated with this organization of which you speak—this…‘Agency’—I know nothing about it.”
“Please,”Douay said sadly. “Don’t embarrass yourself. The record is clear. When the cruise ships owned by Señor José Alvarez began to take business away from you, he somehow drowned in his own swimming pool. That, in spite of the fact that he had been a member ofMexico ’s Olympic swim team some fifteen years earlier!
“Then, after a journalist named Harry Meyers wrote a story about the way your tankers dump toxic materials into theAtlantic Ocean , he inexplicably committed suicide. Just two days prior to his wedding!
“Oh, and let’s not forget Countess Maria Sarkov, who had the terrible misfortune to be hit by a truck as she crossed 42nd Street one week after referring to your wife as ‘an ugly pig’ in a New York society column. No, my friend, you not only work for The Agency,”Douay added grimly, “but they pay you in blood.
“Yet even The Agency can’t do anything about the fact that you and your company have been turned away by bankers inZurich ,London , andNew York . Your stock is down thirty percent, the litigation from the oil spill will drag on for ten years, and your cruise ships are sailing half-full. Still, you know best, so we’ll speak of more enjoyable things….
“How are your children? Well, I hope.”
Thorakis felt a rising sense of despair, and desperately tried to keep it from showing. The thing he feared most was that
would be the one to lose the Thorakis family fortune, and not only bring shame onto himself , but rob his children of their birthright.
Finally, after an uncomfortable silence, the Greek looked up from his plate.
“Perhaps I was too hasty in my response,” he said hesitantly. “What sort of information would you be seeking? Who knows…there may be some way for me to accommodateyou. ”
“There, you see,”Douay replied genially. “I knew we could do business! In answer to your question I want to know everything you know. Especially whatever you can tell me about the man called Agent 47.”
EAST OFYAKIMA ,WASHINGTON STATE,USA
The plume of dust was quickly followed by a blur as the man who was about to die topped a distant rise.
Both the rider and his motorcycle were soon lost from sight as the gravel road took him down into one of the many gullies that separated Agent 47 from his target. The oncoming biker was still too far away for a positive identification, so the assassin lowered his binoculars and allowed a sun-warmed rock to accept his weight. It was a hot day and the road seemed to shimmer as the man called the Grim Reaper rematerialized in the distance. His real name was Mel Johnson, and his main claims to fame were a long criminal record and a willingness to kill anyone who got in his way. He wore wraparound shades, a black leather vest similar to the one 47 had on, and a pair of fadedLevis . The sort of outfit real bikers wear, and wannabe weekend riders emulate, hoping to look tough.
Not Johnson, though. He was the real deal, and his meaty arms hung straight down from ape-hanger handlebars as the chopper barreled up the road toward a meeting with the rest of the “Big Six.” A fun-loving consortium of motorcycle gangs led by a swell guy known as the “Big Kahuna,” the “Big K,”
or just BK for short.
The Big K ran the joint enterprise for the benefit of all its members. A business strategy calculated to ward off incursions by vertically integrated competitors, like the Colombian drug cartels. That’s how it was supposed to work, although there were rumors that some of the gangs weren’t all that happy with the Kahuna’s self-serving management style.Which explained why chieftains like Johnson had been ordered to come alone. The Big Kahuna didn’t want to be outgunned. It was a rather sensible policy, from 47’s point of view.
Satisfied now that he was about to kill the right man, 47 lowered his binoculars and checked his Audemars Piguet, Royal Oak Offshore wristwatch. Johnson was running late, which meant 47 was running late, but it couldn’t be helped.
Agent 47 felt the familiar hollow sensation in the pit of his stomach as he stood and forced himself to take a long, slow look around. The assassin knew from hard-won experience how many things can change during the brief amount of time it takes to sip a mouthful of coffee, piss against a wall, or check a safety. A witness can appear out of nowhere, the wind can strengthen unexpectedly, or any of a thousand other variables can interfere with the machinery of death.
But there were no witnesses here, other than the hawk that circled high above, and the wind direction didn’t matter as 47 made his way out onto the bridge that spanned a mostly dry watercourse. The wire had been there for hours by now,laid crosswise across the dusty road as cars, trucks, and motorcycles rumbled over it. With the steel thread already fastened to the railing on the opposite side of the bridge, it was a simple matter to lift the wire and secure it to the framework. Then, having concealed himself in the deep shadow the harsh sun cast next to the two-lane bridge, all the assassin had to do was wait for Mel Johnson to come along and execute himself.