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Authors: Andy McDermott

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BOOK: The Valhalla Prophecy
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Eddie cackled. “I don’t hang about. So you just drop your kecks, then hop aboard …”

She gave the upstanding member a playful swat. “It’ll have to wait until tonight, sorry. But you hold that thought.”

“If I do that, I won’t be able to walk all day!”

Nina laughed again, then tugged away from him and stood, checking her watch. “I’m out the door in fifteen minutes. And you
will
be with me. Preferably fully dressed.”

“Oh, so I’ve got a choice?”

“Ha! You’re a married man, you have no choice in anything.”

“Yeah, I learned that in my first marriage.” He huffed, then rolled out of bed. “Well, if the world needs saving again, suppose I’d better bloody do it.”

“Hopefully it won’t need our services today,” Nina told him. Now it was her turn to smirk. “Because I’ve got plans for tonight.”

Eddie grinned, then headed for the bathroom.

“Can’t believe you’re still cold,” said Eddie as they entered Nina’s office.

“What?” she complained, unzipping her coat. “It feels like the middle of winter!” She pointed at the cityscape beyond the windows. The view across her native Manhattan from the United Nations’ towering Secretariat Building was still dappled with snow from an unexpected
flurry a few days earlier, and a chill wind had whipped around them as they crossed First Avenue and the plaza outside the UN complex.

“You were the one who wanted to take the subway rather than getting a cab.” Eddie took off his battered leather jacket, looking entirely unfazed by the weather.

“And you should have tried harder to convince me that was a bad idea!”

“When have I ever managed to do that?” He hung up his jacket, then watched with amusement as his wife shrugged off layers of clothing. “So what’s in today’s diary, then?”

“Jeez, at least let me get to my desk.” Finally shorn of wool, Nina sat and opened her laptop. “Okay, there’s the international relations meeting at nine thirty, the general accounting briefing at eleven—”

“Count me in! Fucking thrilling.”

“The IT upgrade group at two, and the interagency communications meeting at four.” She leaned back, shaking her head. “You know what’s missing from all of those? Anything to do with actual archaeology.”

“See? This’d be a good time to take a long break. There’s nothing new actually going on.”

“It’s tempting. Very tempting.” She started to check her emails, but was interrupted by the intercom. “Yes?”

“Dr. Wilde?” said Melinda, Lola’s French replacement. “There is a Mr. Trulli asking to see you. He does not have an appointment, but—”

“Matt?” said Nina. “That’s okay, let him in.”

Eddie raised his eyebrows. “Matt’s here?”

“Must have come back early from Down Under.” Before long, there was a knock at the door. “Come in!”

Matt Trulli entered. “Morning, guys!” said the Australian cheerfully. The couple had not seen him for a few months, and in that time the Oceanic Survey Organization’s chief engineer had topped up his tan and also acquired a sun-bleached beard and several extra pounds around his already ample midsection. “Great to see you both.”

“You too,” replied Nina, getting up to greet him.

Eddie shook his hand. “Welcome back! How was your trip home?”

“Bloody brilliant, mate. Just what I needed to relax after everything that happened down at Atlantis.” The previous year, Matt had almost died in a crippled submarine among the ruins of the lost city. “Spent the time designing a new sub—with a two-way release on the docking clamps this time!—and building a couple of ROVs.”

“Your idea of relaxation ain’t the same as mine,” said the Englishman. “That’s not what I call a holiday.”

“It wasn’t really a holiday, mate—it was technically a sabbatical.
Working
holiday, the best sort.”

“My thinking exactly,” said Nina, embracing Matt. “Maybe I married the wrong man …”

“Oi!” protested Eddie.

Matt laughed. “Wouldn’t dream of splitting you two up, mate. For starters, I know you’d beat the crap out of me!”

“So you’re back at the OSO?” Nina asked.

He nodded. “Don’t start again until next week, officially, but I fancied coming in to clear the decks beforehand. I’ve been out of the office for months, so I hate to think what my inbox is going to look like! But I wanted to pop in and say hello to you guys first.”

“Aw, thanks, Matt,” she said with a smile. “Glad you’re back.”

“Nice to be back. Although the weather’s a bit crook! So what have you two been up to? Got anything exciting going on?”

“Not at the moment,” said Nina. “Lots of meetings, bureaucracy, budgets …”

“There’s no bloody pleasing her,” Eddie scoffed. “When things are going smoothly, she complains. When she’s being shot at or thrown out of blimps, she complains!”

Matt looked surprised. “You were thrown out of a blimp?”

“No,” Nina assured him. “Although it’s about the only thing we
haven’t
been thrown out of.”

“Yet,” added her husband.

She jabbed a finger at him. “What did I tell you about jinxing things?”

“Glad to see you two are the same as ever,” said Matt, smiling. “Anyway, we’ll have to have a proper catch-up soon. If you’re free one evening this week, maybe we could grab a bite somewhere.”

“Sounds good to me,” Eddie said. “Lola yesterday, now you, and we were just talking about going to see Grant Thorn in LA—it’s like we’re getting the gang back together.”

“If we see Grant, we’ll probably see Macy too—they’re an item now,” added Nina. “Huh, wonder if we’ll catch up with anyone else?”

“Probably Peter bloody Alderley, knowing my luck.”

She smiled and was about to reply when the intercom sounded again. “Yes?”

“Dr. Wilde, Mr. Seretse is here,” Melinda announced. Nina and Eddie exchanged glances; the UN liaison was not one of their scheduled meetings for the day. “He says it’s a very important matter.”

“Thanks, Melinda. Send him in,” said Nina. “Wonder what he wants?”

“Whatever it is, I doubt it’s any of my business,” Matt said. “I’d better get going.”

“See you later,” said Eddie, clapping him on the shoulder.

“No worries, mate. Catch you again soon, Nina.”

She kissed his cheek. “Bye, Matt.” He smiled and departed, the door barely having time to swing shut before it was opened again by the morning’s second unexpected arrival.

Oswald Seretse was a tall and handsome black man in his late forties, straight-backed and aristocratic in bearing. He carried a slim, expensive briefcase. “Ah, good morning, Dr. Wilde, Mr. Chase,” he said, his Gambian accent largely masked beneath the patrician tones he had acquired while studying at Cambridge.

“Please,” said Nina as she shook his proffered hand, “call me Nina.” Seretse’s attitude was considerably
more formal than his predecessor’s. “We don’t really stand on ceremony at the IHA.”

“Very well. Nina.” He did not sound entirely comfortable with doing so. “Eddie.”

“Oswald,” said Eddie as he shook the official’s hand and grinned cheekily. “Or can I call you Ozzy?”

Seretse gave him a heavy-eyed stare. “I would really prefer that you didn’t.”

“What can we do for you?” Nina asked, gesturing for him to take a seat on the couches in one corner. “I wasn’t expecting to see you until the end of the week.”

“Something has come up.” Seretse sat, carefully straightening the trouser creases of his immaculate blue suit before setting his briefcase on the low coffee table and unlocking it. “A matter that I think you will agree concerns the IHA.”

Eddie took the place on the adjoining couch beside Nina. “Security business?”

“That is the IHA’s purview, so yes.” He took out a manila folder. “Now, Doct— Nina. How much do you know about Norse mythology?”

“The basics,” she answered, curious. “I read
Beowulf
in high school, and Viking history was part of my coursework for a semester as an undergraduate. And there was a degree of crossover when I was doing my research into the various legends of Atlantis, because the Vikings were linked to some of them—although just about every ancient civilization was linked to Atlantis at one time or another, so the connections were tenuous at best, and as we’ve since discovered they had no basis in fact. But I wouldn’t call myself an expert by any means.”

Seretse nodded. “I see. But you have heard of Viking runestones?”

“Of course. In fact, I know a specialist in them, David Colway. He’s not a full-time member of the IHA, but he’s worked with us before. If you want, I can call him.”

The diplomat firmly shook his head. “As I said, this is a security matter. It must remain classified for now.” He
opened the folder and handed her a photograph. “This is what has become known as the Valhalla Runestone.”

Nina recognized it immediately. “Found last year in Sweden. David actually went over to Stockholm to study it for a few days. Are you sure you don’t want me to bring him in on this?”

“Absolutely.”

Eddie took a closer look at the photograph. The runestone was a long, rugged slab of moss-covered granite, lying on a cloth-draped bench to allow for detailed examination. A ruler beside it provided scale: It was around seven feet in length, some two feet wide at the base and tapering to half that at the top. The rock was about a foot thick. Line upon line of thin, angular characters had been chiseled into its face, along with patterns and symbols surrounding a circular piece of much darker stone set into a recess some two-thirds of the way up it. “So what’s so important about it? It doesn’t actually tell you how to find Valhalla, does it?”

He had said it jokingly, but Nina’s reply was serious. “Actually … kind of, yes.”

“What? You’re kidding.”

“No. If I remember, it supposedly described the route the Vikings would have taken to find it. There was a lot of excitement about it at the time; people were wondering if Valhalla was more than just a legend, like Atlantis. That’s why I asked David to check it out for us.”

“What did he find?”

“Nothing concrete—what was written in the runes was too vague. The Swedes are still working on it, but everyone else has pretty much lost interest.”

“Not everyone,” said Seretse. “Someone is very interested in the runestone. Interested enough to steal it—and kill for it.”

Nina gasped. “What?”

Seretse took out another photograph. This was a wider angle, showing the bench from the previous image in its surroundings, a laboratory.

It was empty.

“Last night, thieves broke into the Swedish National
Museum of Antiquities in Stockholm and took the runestone,” the official told them sonorously. “They also shot and killed a security guard.”

“They stole it?” Eddie said, looking back at the first photo. “Christ, if that thing’s seven feet of solid granite, it must weigh a ton!”

“Very nearly. Nought-point-nine metric tons, in fact.”

“They’d need a lot of people to move it.”

“They had them. They hacked into the security cameras and shut them off before breaking in, but a camera on another building nearby caught them. There were at least eight people involved, probably more.”

“Why would they steal it?” Nina wondered. “Every inch of it’s been photographed, and all the runes have been translated. Why go to the risk of taking the actual stone when you could just look it up on Google?”

“That is what the UN would like you to find out,” said Seretse, straightening. “A flight to Stockholm has been arranged for this evening, so you will arrive there tomorrow morning.”

“What?” she said, taken aback.

“Guess we’ll have to tell Matt to take a rain check,” Eddie muttered.

“Wait, I don’t understand,” Nina went on. “This is a job for the Stockholm police, not the IHA. What’s it got to do with us?”

Seretse took out a final photo and placed it in front of them. The scene was dark and grainy, a CCTV still taken at night. Several figures wearing black clothing were clustered around a van, features obscured by hoods and caps.

Except one. This particular frame had been singled out because one of the robbers had inadvertently revealed his face, if only for a fraction of a second. His hood had slipped back as he climbed into the van, exposing his features to the wash of a nearby streetlight.

Both Nina and Eddie knew him at once.


That
is what it has to do with the IHA,” said Seretse, seeing their recognition. “The thieves were led by one of your people.”

4
Vietnam
Eight Years Earlier

Chase stared up at the slowly turning ceiling fan. “Saigon.
Shit
.”

“What?” Castille gave him a bewildered look from his nearby chair. “We are not in Saigon. This is Da Nang.”

“I know, but I always wanted to say that.” On his friend’s uncomprehending blink, he went on: “Come on, Hugo!
Apocalypse Now
?”

“Is it?”

Chase snorted and shook his head. “You need to watch more movies.”

“Or you need to watch fewer.”

They both looked around as the hotel room’s telephone rang. Castille, closer, picked it up. “Hello? Yes, we are here … Okay.” He replaced the receiver. “That was Hal. He is with the client in room 503. They are ready to meet us.”

BOOK: The Valhalla Prophecy
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