Authors: Eric Van Lustbader,Robert Ludlum
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Crime, #Suspense, #Adult, #Adventure
For Dan and Linda Jariabka,
with thanks and love.
My thanks to:
The intrepid reporters at The Exile.
Bourne’s adventures in Moscow
and Arkadin’s history in Nizhny Tagil
would not have existed without their help.
Gregg Winter for turning me on to the logistics of transporting
Henry Morrison for clutch ideating at all hours.
A note to my readers:
I try to be as factual as possible in my novels,
but this is, after all, a work of fiction.
In order to make the story as exciting as possible,
I’ve inevitably taken artistic license
here and there, with places, objects, and,
possibly, even time.
I trust readers will overlook these small anomalies
and enjoy the ride.
High Security Prison Colony 13, Nizhny Tagil, Russia/Campione d’Italia, Switzerland
inmates waited for Borya Maks to appear, they lounged against filthy stone walls whose cold no longer affected them. Out in the prison yard where they smoked expensive black-market cigarettes made from harsh black Turkish tobacco, they talked among themselves as if they had nothing better to do than to suck the acrid smoke into their lungs, expel it in puffs that seemed to harden in the freezing air. Above their heads was a cloudless sky whose glittering starlight turned it into a depthless enamel shell. Ursa Major, Lynx, Canes Venatici, Perseus-these same constellations burned the heavens above Moscow, six hundred miles to the southwest, but how different life was here from the gaudy, overheated clubs of Trehgorny val and Sadovnicheskaya street. By day the inmates of Colony 13 manufactured parts for the T-90, Russia’s formidable battle tank. But at night what do men without conscience or emotion talk to one another about? Strangely, family. There was a stability to coming home to a wife and children that defined their previous lives like the massive walls of High Security Colony 13
defined their present ones. What they did to earn money-lie, cheat, steal, extort, blackmail, torture, and kill-was all they knew. That they did these things well was a given, otherwise they would have been dead. Theirs was a life outside civilization as most people knew it. Returning to the warmth of a familiar woman, to the homey smells of sweet beets, boiled cabbage, stewed meat, the fire of peppery vodka, was a comfort that made them all nostalgic. The nostalgia bound them as securely as the tattoos of their shadowy profession.
A soft whistle cut through the frosty night air, evaporated their reminiscences like turpentine on oil paint. The night lost all its imagined color, returned to blue and black as Borya Maks appeared. Maks was a big man-a man who lifted weights for an hour, followed by ninety minutes of skipping rope every single day he’d been inside. As a contract killer for Kazanskaya, a branch of the Russian grupperovka trafficking in drugs and black-market cars, he held a certain status among the fifteen hundred inmates of Colony 13. The guards feared and despised him. His reputation preceded him like a shadow at sunset. He was not unlike the eye of a hurricane, around which swirled the howling winds of violence and death. The latest being the fifth man in the group that was now four. Kazanskaya or no Kazanskaya, Maks had to be punished, otherwise all of them knew their days in Colony 13 were numbered.
They smiled at Maks. One of them offered him a cigarette, another lit it for him as he bent forward, cupping a hand to keep the tiny flame alive in the wind. The other two men each grabbed one of Maks’s steel-banded arms, while the man who had offered the cigarette drove a makeshift knife he’d painstakingly honed in the prison factory toward Maks’s solar plexus. At the last instant Maks slapped it away with a superbly attuned flick of his hand. Immediately the man with the burned match delivered a vicious uppercut to the point of Maks’s chin.
Maks staggered back into the chests of the two men holding his arms. But at the same time, he stomped the heel of his left boot onto the instep of one of the men holding him. Shaking his left arm free, he swung his body in a sharp arc, driving his cocked elbow into the rib cage of the man holding his right arm. Free for the moment, he put his back against the wall deep in shadow. The four closed ranks, moving in for the kill. The one with the knife stepped to the fore, another slipped a curved scrap of metal over his knuckles.
The fight began in earnest with grunts of pain and effort, showers of sweat, smears of blood. Maks was powerful and canny; his reputation was well deserved, but though he delivered as good as he got, he was facing four determined enemies. When Maks drove one to his knees another would take his place, so that there were always two of them beating at him while the others regrouped and repaired themselves as best they could. The four had had no illusions about the task ahead of them. They knew they’d never overcome Maks at the first or even the second attack. Their plan was to wear him down in shifts; while they took breaks, they allowed him none.
And it appeared to be working. Bloody and bruised, they continued their relentless assault, until Maks drove the edge of his hand into the throat of one of the four-the one with the homemade knife-crushing his cricoid cartilage. As the man staggered back into the arms of his compatriots, gasping like a hooked fish, Maks grabbed the knife out of his hand. Then his eyes rolled up and he became a deadweight. Blinded by rage and bloodlust, the remaining three charged Maks.
Their rush almost succeeded in getting inside Maks’s defenses, but he dealt with them calmly and efficiently. Muscles popped along his arms as he turned, presenting his left side to them, giving them a smaller target, even as he used the knife in short, flicking thrusts and stabs to inflict a picket line of wounds that, though not deep, produced a welter of blood. This was deliberate, Maks’s counter to their tactic of trying to wear him out. Fatigue was one thing, loss of blood quite another.
One of his assailants lunged forward, slipped on his own blood, and Maks hammered him down. This created an opening, and the one with the makeshift knuckle-duster moved in, slamming the metal into the side of Maks’s neck. Maks at once lost breath and strength. The remaining men beat an unholy tattoo on him and were on the verge of plowing him under when a guard emerged out of the murk to drive them methodically back with a solid wood truncheon whose force was far more devastating than any piece of scrap metal could be.
A shoulder separated, then cracked under the expertly wielded truncheon; another man had the side of his skull staved in. The third, turning to flee, was struck flush on his third sacral vertebra, which shattered on impact, breaking his back.
“What are you doing?” Maks said to the guard between attempts to regain control of his breathing. “I assumed these bastards bribed all the guards.”
“They did.” The guard grabbed Maks’s elbow. “This way,” he indicated with the glistening end of the truncheon.
Maks’s eyes narrowed. “That’s not the way back to the cells.”
“Do you want to get out of here or not?” the guard said.
Maks nodded his conditional assent, and the two men loped across the deserted yard. The guard kept his body pressed against the wall, and Maks followed suit. They moved at a deliberate pace, he saw, that kept them out of the beams of the roving spotlights. He would have wondered who this guard was, but there was no time. Besides, in the back of his mind he’d been expecting something like this. He knew his boss, the head of the Kazanskaya, wasn’t going to let him rot in Colony 13 for the rest of his life, if only because he was too valuable an asset to let rot. Who could possibly replace the great Borya Maks? Only one, perhaps: Leonid Arkadin. But Arkadin-whoever he was; no one Maks knew had ever met him or seen his face-wouldn’t work for Kazanskaya, or any of the families; he was a freelancer, the last of a dying breed. If he existed at all, which, frankly, Maks doubted. He’d grown up with stories of bogeymen with all manner of unbelievable powers-for some perverse reason Russians delighted in trying to scare their children. But the fact was, Maks never believed in bogeymen, was never scared. He had no reason to be scared of the specter of Leonid Arkadin, either. By this time the guard had pulled open a door midway along the wall. They ducked in just as a searchlight beam crawled across the stones against which, moments before, they had been pressed.
After several turnings, he found himself in the corridor that led to the communal men’s shower, beyond which, he knew, was one of the two entries to the wing of the prison. How this guard meant to get them through the checkpoints was anyone’s guess, but Maks wasted no energy trying to second-guess him. Up to now he’d known just what to do and how to do it. Why should this be any different? The man was clearly a professional. He’d researched the prison thoroughly, he obviously had major juice behind him: first, to have gotten in here, second, to have the apparent run of the place. That was Maks’s boss all over.
As they moved down the corridor toward the opening to the showers, Maks said, “Who are you?”
“My name is unimportant,” the guard said. “Who sent me is not.”
Maks absorbed everything in the unnatural stillness of the prison night. The guard’s Russian was flawless, but to Maks’s practiced eye he didn’t look Russian, or Georgian, Chechen, Ukrainian, or Azerbaijani, for that matter. He was small by Maks’s standards, but then almost everyone was small by his standards. His body was toned, though, its responses finely honed. He possessed the preternatural stillness of properly harnessed energy. He made no move unless he needed to and then used only the amount of energy required, no more. Maks himself was like this, so it was easy for him to spot the subtle signs others would miss. The guard’s eyes were pale, his expression grim, almost detached, like a surgeon in the OR. His light hair thick on top, spiked in a style that would have been unfamiliar to Maks had he not been an aficionado of international magazines and foreign films. In fact, if Maks didn’t know better he’d say the guard was American. But that was impossible. Maks’s boss didn’t employ Americans; he co-opted them.
“So Maslov sent you,” Maks said. Dimitri Maslov was the head of Kazanskaya. “It’s about fucking time, let me tell you. Fifteen months in this place feels like fifteen years.”
At that moment, as they came abreast of the showers, the guard, without turning fully around, swung the truncheon into the side of Maks’s head. Maks, taken completely by surprise, staggered onto the bare concrete floor of the shower room, which reeked of mildew, disinfectant, and men lacking proper hygiene.
The guard came after him as nonchalantly as if he were out for the evening with a girl on his arm. He swung the truncheon almost lazily. He struck Maks on his left biceps, just hard enough to herd him backward toward the line of showerheads protruding from the moist rear wall. But Maks refused to be herded, by this guard or by anyone else. As the truncheon whistled down from the apex of its arc, he stepped forward, broke the trajectory of the blow with his tensed forearm. Now, inside the guard’s line of defense, he could go to work in the way that suited the situation best.
The homemade knife was in his left hand. He thrust it point-first. When the guard moved to block it, he slashed upward, ripping the edge of the blade against flesh. He’d aimed for the underside of the guard’s wrist, the nexus of veins that, if severed, would render the hand useless. The guard’s reflexes were as fast as his own, though, and instead the blade scored the arm of the leather jacket. But it did not penetrate the leather as it should have. Maks only had time to register that the jacket must be lined with Kevlar or some other impenetrable material before the callused edge of the guard’s hand struck the knife from his grip.
Another blow sent him reeling back. He tripped over one of the drain holes, his heel sinking into it, and the guard smashed the sole of his boot into the side of Maks’s knee. There was an awful sound, the grinding of bone against bone as Maks’s right leg collapsed.
As the guard closed in he said, “It wasn’t Dimitri Maslov who sent me. It was Pyotr Zilber.”
Maks struggled to extricate his heel, which he could no longer feel, from the drain hole. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
The guard grabbed his shirtfront. “You killed his brother, Aleksei. One shot to the back of the head. They found him facedown in the Moskva River.”
“It was business,” Maks said. “Just business.”
“Yes, well, this is personal,” the guard said as he drove his knee into Maks’s crotch. Maks doubled over. When the guard bent to haul him upright, he slammed the top of his head against the point of the guard’s chin. Blood spurted from between the guard’s lips as his teeth cut into his tongue.
Maks used this advantage to drive his fist into the guard’s side just over his kidney. The guard’s eyes opened wide-the only indication that he felt pain-and he kicked Maks’s ruined knee. Maks went down and stayed down. Agony flowed in a river through him. As he struggled to compartmentalize it, the guard kicked again. He felt his ribs give way, his cheek kissed the stinking concrete floor. He lay dazed, unable to rise. The guard squatted down beside him. Seeing the grimace the guard made gave Maks a measure of satisfaction, but that was all he was destined to receive in the way of solace.