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Authors: David Lee Marriner

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BOOK: The Gods' Gambit
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Now on the other roof, North spoke to his colleagues in the
car through his headset. “Ready for the second phase.” He squatted in the
ink-dark shadows of the roof’s parapet and  waited there for a few minutes
before hearing the flat tones of the perfecty’s voice. “He’s just entered the
building … He’s speaking with the janitor … Heading for the lifts.”

“On my way,” said North upon hearing the last phrase.

He picked the lock to open the door to the lift shaft. Once
inside, he switched on his flashlight and headed through a narrow corridor
until he approached a round garret-style window. He opened it, took a rolled-up
rope ladder out of his backpack and let it slowly unfurl from an ornamental
fixture that protruded from the window. Squeezing himself through the gap, he
stepped onto the ladder, closed the window behind him and climbed down until he
reached the penultimate level of the building. He then stepped out onto the
ledge of the façade right next to an apartment window and waited there,
motionless, like one of the many darker shadows of the night.

Some minutes passed before he saw a light come on inside.
The light, filtered through the glass panel of an inner door, cast a dim
illumination across a spacious kitchen on the other side of the window. The
light indicated that the target had just arrived home. If the apartment was
protected by a burglar alarm, it should have been deactivated by now. He had to
get in quick. The perfecty’s plan, which he had flawlessly followed until now,
demanded that North should enter through the kitchen.

Out of his pocket, he swiftly took a small canister and
sprayed a circle of liquid onto the glass. The sprayed area instantaneously
bubbled causing the glass to melt. North repeated the process on the inner part
of the double-glazed panel. Pushing his hand through the still smouldering
aperture, he tried to unlatch the window’s interior handle. Surprisingly, the
window did not open on the first attempt as he had expected. North’s next
attempts proved fruitless also. He began to feel the beads of sweat turn to
trickles down his forehead. He was losing momentum and crucial time was
passing. He pulled his hand back through the hole, catching it on a ragged
piece of glass. In that moment, he noticed a second small locking mechanism
attached to the window frame above the hole in the glass panel. He shoved his
hand in again, unlocked it, and this time the window opened.

Without making the slightest sound, North jumped cat-like
onto the floor. He stood motionless for a short while. It was quiet. He took a
curved dagger out of the sheath on his belt and began to move towards the door.
He had only taken one step before it opened. A small grey-haired man entered
the kitchen, taking a couple of steps by force of habit before he froze. His
eyes opened widely.

“What the…!” he exclaimed.

North felt himself being taken over by instantaneous
Now I’m going to earn my ascension
, he thought.

The man in front of him quickly recovered from his shock
and, turning, started to run away. North smiled and rushed after him.

All the information North and the others had gathered about
this man indicated that he wasn’t capable of much resistance. He was a gentle,
non-violent man; a scientist, an art connoisseur and a paper-rat who was
married to his work.

North caught up with him just before he was clear of the
kitchen area. However, what the man did next caught North by surprise. Seeing
that he would not be able to escape, he turned and threw a swift punch, hitting
North full in the face, shortly throwing him off guard. He then punched and
kicked out at North twice more. Angered by the resistance of somebody he had
considered easy prey, North hit back using the blunt handle of his dagger. The
man fell on his knees to the floor, his head streaming with blood. North bent
down, gripped him by the throat and flashed the dagger in front of his eyes.

“You want to play? Let’s play,” North hissed through
clenched teeth.

“What do you want from me?” the man pleaded weakly.


“Take the money, the credit cards. My wallet is in my

“Shut up and listen,” North said in a commanding tone. “I
want you to do something for me. Get up!” He grabbed the man, pulled him into
an upright position and pressed the blade of the dagger to his neck.

“Okay, I’ll do as you say,” the man groaned resignedly.

“Our party’s fucking boring. We could invite few friends to
freshen it up. I bet you like this idea, don’t you?” North taunted
sarcastically as he pushed the man back further into the apartment. “Move!”

On the way, he picked up a T-shirt from a coat rack on the
wall and wrapped it around his still bleeding hand. The man noticed that North
was distracted for a brief moment and broke loose, making a dash through an
open door to the left. North rushed after him, but was too late. With the palm
of one hand, the man hit something under the top of a large computer table
standing in the centre of the room, and with his other hand, he started to open
one of the drawers. North threw a punch and knocked him down just before he was
able to snatch a silver-plated revolver out of the half-opened drawer.

North bent over and looked under the top of the computer
table. As he feared, he saw a red panic button. His victim had managed to
activate the security alarm. North’s expression became twisted with anger and
frustration. He knew that this type of alarm could be connected directly to the
police or to a private security contractor and, eventually, to the janitor
downstairs. Whatever the case, he knew he had failed.

Giving in to his rage, he kicked the man twice in the neck,
rendering him unconscious. He then activated the micro transmitter in his ear
by tapping it with his finger and spoke rapidly. “Abort the mission! We’re
going to have company.”

Quickly, North approached two paintings hanging on the
walls, cut them from their frames and placed them, rolled up, in his backpack.
He then emptied the contents of some drawers onto the floor and grabbed the
man’s wallet.

Not wasting a second, he climbed out through the kitchen
window and repeated, in reverse order and with triple speed, every move he had
made to get to this point.

By the time the security guards reached the apartment where
the grey-haired man lay on the floor, North was already in the lift in the
opposite building descending to the ground floor. A minute later, he unlocked the
door of a getaway car that had been parked in front of the building and drove
calmly away.






Heathrow Airport, London, UK

The present day


James Whiteway waited for his fiancée with growing impatience
in the arrivals lounge of Terminal 5. Elizabeth’s flight from New York had been
delayed, and although it had now landed, she had still not appeared after
almost forty-five minutes.

James’ mood brightened in a flash when he at last saw her
slender figure amongst the stream of passengers that eventually poured out of
the gates. Her natural blonde hair, which fell casually in large curls around
her shoulders, contrasted with her dark and elegantly tailored business coat
and knee-length skirt. He felt the same rush of familiar passion he had felt on
the day they had first met. The two weeks separation had been too long for
James, given that in the two years of living together they had not been apart
for more than a day. He unwillingly reminded himself that he had better get
used to more frequent separations because Elizabeth’s firm had recently won a
lucrative subcontractor’s deal with one of the largest fashion houses in New
York, and this trip abroad would be the first of many for her.

James could not wait until she had walked all the way to
where he stood. He set off through the crowd to meet her. “Hi, El,” he called,
taking large bounding steps to cover the last few metres that separated them.

“Hi, darling. I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too, sweetheart.”

They stood embracing and kissing for some moments.

“How was the flight?”

“Long, but comfortable. How are you?”

“Now I’m completely happy,” he said, grabbing the handle of
her suitcase. “Shall I treat you to one of your favourite black coffees, or do
you want to head home straightaway?”

“Let’s hang about a little. I need to adjust to being back
on terra firma.”

Most of the tables in the airport café had already
been taken, but they managed to find a free one at the edge of the sitting
area. James bought a coffee for Elizabeth, a tea with milk for himself and a
piece of the chocolate cake, which they normally shared.

“You look very … fresh … after travelling for so many hours.
Some day you should tell me how you do that,” he said.

Elizabeth arched her eyebrows in a theatrical gesture of
discontentment. “Only fresh?”

“Well … beautiful and appetising too,” James quickly
corrected himself.

“That’s better. The secret is sleep. I spent most of my time
on the plane sleeping.”

“The simple approaches are normally the best ones.”

 “I used my time well when I was awake. I drew a few
ideas. I’ll show you my new designs at home.”

James noticed how her face lit up with enthusiasm. “Why
don’t you show them to me now,” he suggested.

She reached into her handbag, took out her sketchbook and
handed it to him. James leafed through it slowly. These drawings seemed to
differ from her previous designs. In this set, he saw sketches of tiny garments
with rounded collars and coat tails that were decorated with huge buttons. In
addition, there were drawings of trousers with ribbons attached to them.

He gave her a loving look and, stretching out his arm,
caressed her belly with his palm.

“The drawings are wonderful,” he said. “When our little
princess comes into this world, she will have her own little fashion
collection. She will be beautiful and stylish.”

“Of course she will,” Elizabeth replied. “The only thing
that worries me is that she might inherit your taste in clothes.”

“Here we go again,” James murmured, feigning annoyance. They
shared an old joke about what she called his ‘chaotic’ taste in clothes.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said contritely. “Peace?”

“Always. We will love her just as she is, even if she
dresses in sacks.”

Elizabeth laughed. “I love you, too, just the way you are. I
don’t want to change you ... maybe improve you a little,” she said impishly.
Then she asked, “Have you finished editing Star Gods yet?”

She was referring to the book James had been working on.
Since obtaining his degree in theology and oriental studies from Oxford
University, he had published two popular science books, and Star Gods would be
his third. He had already signed a contract with his publisher, and the
deadline to hand over the manuscript was drawing near.

“Almost. I need several more days, maybe a week to finish

For a short while, there was silence between them and James
began to notice how Elizabeth’s gaze had become distracted. He knew her well
enough to know that this meant some troublesome thoughts had emerged in her
mind. “What is it, El?” he asked.

Elizabeth peered at him and then asked in a low, serious
tone, “You may find this strange or stupid—”

“You can say anything to me.”

 “I’ve been thinking a lot recently about Noel. Your...
how many times ‘great’ grandfather?”

“Five times. What could you possibly have to think about

“How his life began. Abandoned as a baby in front of some

“This is weird. You haven’t shown any interest in my family
history until now. I remember I told you this story about Noel soon after we

“It was on our first real date. We talked for many hours

“Yes. I had a tremendous crush on you and wanted to tell you
everything. I couldn’t miss out the curious beginning of the Whiteways.”

“It was nice,” Elizabeth was silent again for a short time
before she continued. “I started thinking about Noel after I found out I was

“Now I begin to understand... I think.”

“These thoughts just kept popping up in my head. I couldn’t
understand why on earth I had this obsessive thinking,” the emotion she was
trying to contain made her cheeks flush.

“You should’ve talked to me about this earlier,” said James.

“I know. I didn’t think it had any significance... until
yesterday. During my last night in the hotel in New York, I suddenly figured out
what linked these seemingly chaotic thoughts. It’s that strange family
tradition of yours.”

At first, James did not understand what she meant.

“I mean that in each generation of your family only one boy
has been born,” she clarified. “It’s the reason behind Noel’s abandonment.”

 “I see... You really think that this ‘tradition’ had
something to do with his fate?”

She nodded in agreement. “Very much so. If I am right, this
could have something to do with us as well. I don’t know how exactly this could
affect us, but—”

He interrupted her. “Hold on, El. Look, it’s pretty
straightforward. We are going to have our girl. That means the ‘one boy only’
tradition does not apply. Consequently, whatever castles in the air you’ve
built up on that premise tumble down.”

Elizabeth’s eyes became wet. “I feel this irrational
tension. It’s like a warning—” She cut off her speech suddenly realising that
what else was on her mind was inexpressible in words.

“It’s clear that all this is related to our baby. You
shouldn’t worry. We’ll pass our girl only the best from your side and from
mine. She’ll be well prepared for life,” said James.

Elizabeth sighed and turned to look aside at the multitude
of scurrying people in the terminal’s lounge.

BOOK: The Gods' Gambit
4.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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