Authors: Sidney Sheldon
ROYAL MILITARY ACADEMY, SANDHURST, ENGLAND
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 22, NINE
Officer Cadet Sebastian Williams burst into Major General Frank Dorrien's office. Williams's complexion was white, his hair disheveled, his uniform a disgrace. Frank Dorrien's upper lip curled. If he closed his eyes he could practically
the standards slipping, like turds off a wet rock.
“What is it?”
“It's Prince Achileas, Sir.”
Do you mean Officer Cadet Constantinos?”
Williams looked at the ground. “Yes, Sir.”
“Well? What about him?”
For one appalling moment, General Dorrien thought that Williams might be going to cry.
“He's dead, Sir.”
The Major General flicked a piece of lint off his jacket. Tall and thin, with the wiry frame of a marathon runner and a face so chiseled and angular it looked like it had been carved from flint, Frank Dorrien's expression gave nothing away.
“Yes, Sir. I found him .Â .Â . hanging. Just now. It was awful, Sir!” Cadet Williams started to shake. Christ, he was an embarrassment.
Frank Dorrien took his battered attachÃ© case with him and followed the distressed cadet along a windowless corridor back towards the barracks. Half walking, half jogging, the boy's limbs dangled like a puppet with its strings tangled. Frank Dorrien shook his head. Soldiers like Officer Cadet Sebastian Williams represented everything that was wrong with today's army.
No discipline. No order. No fucking courage.
An entire generation of dolts.
Achileas Constantinos, Prince of Greece, had been just as bad. Spoiled, entitled. These boys seemed to think that joining the army was some sort of game.
“In there, Sir.” Williams gestured towards the men's bathrooms. “He's still .Â .Â . I didn't know if I should cut him down.”
“Thank you, Williams.”
Frank Dorrien's granite-hewn face showed no emotion. In his early fifties, gray haired and rigid backed, Frank was a born soldier. His body was the product of a lifetime of rigorous physical discipline. It was the perfect complement to his ordered, controlled mind.
“Sir?” Cadet Williams hovered, confused. Did the Major General really want him to leave?
Not that he wanted to see Achileas again. The image of his friend's corpse was already seared on his memory. The bloated face with its bulging eyes, swinging grotesquely from the rafters like an overstuffed Guy on bonfire night. Williams had been scared to death when he found him. He might be a soldier on paper, but the truth was he'd never seen a dead body before.
“Are you deaf?” Frank Dorrien snapped. “I said âdismissed.' ”
“Sir. Yes, Sir.”
Frank Dorrien waited until Cadet Williams was gone. Then he opened the bathroom door.
The first thing he saw were the young Greek prince's boots, swinging at eye level in front of an open stall. They were regulation, black and beautifully polished. A thing of beauty, to General Dorrien's eyes.
Every Sandhurst cadet should have boots like that.
Dorrien's eyes moved upwards. The trousers of the prince's uniform had been soiled. That was a shame, although not a surprise. Unfortunately the bowels often gave way at the moment of death, a last indignity. Dorrien wrinkled his nose as the foul stench assaulted him.
His eyes moved up again and he found himself looking into the dead boy's face.
Prince Achileas Constantinos looked back at him, his glassy, brown eyes fixed wide in death, as if eternally astonished that the world could be so cruel.
Frank Dorrien thought.
Frank himself was quite familiar with cruelty. It didn't astonish him in the least.
He sighed, not for the swinging corpse, but for the shit storm that was about to engulf all of them. A member of the Greek royal family, dead from suicide. At Sandhurst! Hung, no less, like a common thief. Like a coward. Like a nobody.
The Greeks wouldn't like that. Nor would the British government.
Frank Dorrien turned on his heel, walked calmly back to his office and picked up the telephone.
“It's me. I'm afraid we have a problem.”
FORMER SOVIET REPUBLIC OF BRATISLAVA
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 23, TWO
APTAIN BOB DALEY OF
the Welsh Fusiliers looked into the camera and delivered the short speech he'd been handed the night before. He was tired, and cold, and he couldn't understand why his captors were going through with this charade. His captors weren't stupid. They must know that the demands they'd made of the British government were nonsensical.
Disband the Bank of England.
Seize the assets of every UK citizen with a net worth above one million pounds.
Shut down the stock exchange.
No one in Group 99, the radical leftist organization that had kidnapped Bob Daley from an Athens street, actually believed that these things were going to happen. Bob's kidnap, and the speech he was giving now, was clearly just a big publicity stunt. In a few weeks his captors would let him go and think of some other way to grab the international headlines. If there was one thing you could say for Group 99, they were masters at self-promotion.
Named after the 99 percent of the global population that controlled less than half of the world's wealth, Group 99 were a self-described band of “Robin Hood Hackers” targeting big business interests on behalf of “the dispossessed.” Young, computer savvy and completely non-hierarchical, up until now their activities had been confined to cyberattacks against targets they perceived as corrupt. That included multinational companies like McDonald's, as well as any government agencies seen as being on the side of the wealthy, the hated 1 percent. The CIA had had its systems hacked and seen the publication of hundreds of highly embarrassing personal emails. And the British Ministry of Defence had been exposed with its metaphorical trousers down after accepting bribes to give places at Sandhurst to the sons of Europe's wealthy elite. After each attack, the target's screens would fill up with images of floating red balloonsâthe group's logo and a tongue-in-cheek reference to the eighties pop song “99 Red Balloons.” It was touches like this, their humor and disregard for authority, that had given Group 99 an almost cult following among young people all across the globe.
In the last eighteen months, the group had turned its attention to the global fracking business, launching devastating hacks against Exxon Mobil and BP, as well as two of the top Chinese players. The environmental angle had given them even more cachet among the young, as well as winning them a number of prominent Hollywood supporters.
Captain Bob Daley had rather admired them himself, even if he didn't share their politics. But after three weeks locked up in a mountain cabin in some godforsaken forest in Bratislava, the joke was wearing thin. And now they'd woken him up at two in the bloody morning and dragged him outside to record some ridiculous video in subzero temperatures. The air was so cold it made Bob Daley's teeth ache.
Still, he told himself, at least after this I'll be going home.
His captors had already told him. He would go first. Then, a few weeks later, it would be the American's turn. Hunter Drexel, an American journalist, had been snatched off the streets of Moscow the same week that Bob was ambushed in Athens. Hunter's kidnap had appeared almost random, a spontaneous act to generate publicity back in the U.S. Bob's had been more carefully planned. It was his first trip abroad for MI6, a training exercise, and someone in Group 99 clearly knew exactly where he was going to be and when. Bob was convinced they had someone on the inside at MI6. There could be no other rational explanation. His kidnap had been designed to cause maximum embarrassment to both the army and MI6. It helped Group 99's cause that Bob was also in fact the Honorable Robert Daley, from a wealthy and connected, upper-class British family. No one liked a toff.
“Don't take it personally,” one of his captors had told him in perfect English, smiling. “But you are a bit of a poster boy for privilege. Just think of it as an experience. You're doing your bit for equality.”
been an experience. Hunter Drexel had become a good friend. The two men were polar opposites. Bob Daley was traditional, conservative and deeply patriotic, whereas Hunter was a maverick, individualist and lover of risk in all its forms. But there was nothing like three months stuck in a cabin in the middle of nowhere to bring people together. When he finally got home, Bob would be able to sell his memoirs and retire from both the army and his abortive career as a spy. His wife, Claire, would be delighted.
“Look directly at the camera please. And stick to the script.”
It was the Greek who spoke, the one they called Apollo. Everyone in Group 99 had a Greek codename, which they also used as their handle online, although members came from all over the world. Apollo was a real Greek, however, and one of Group 99's founding members. The group traced its beginnings to Athens, and the euphoria following the election of the country's most leftwing premier to date, the union firebrand Elias Calles. Perhaps for this reason, the Greek codenames had stuck.
Bob Daley and Hunter Drexel both disliked Apollo. He was arrogant and had no sense of humor, unlike the rest of them. Today he was dressed in black fatigues with a knitted balaclava covering his face.
Bob Daley thought.
The big man on campus.
It was pathetic, really. What were these kids going to do when they grew up? When the whole Group 99 adventure was over? When Apollo was caught, as Bob didn't doubt he would be eventually, he'd be looking at serious prison time. Had he even considered that?
“My name is Captain Robert Daley,” Bob began. Looking right at the camera he delivered his lines perfectly. The sooner this was over, the sooner he could get back inside the cabin to his warm bed. Even Hunter Drexel's snoring was preferable to being out here in the snow, jumping through hoops for this muppet.