Authors: James Becker
That definitely wasn’t what the Italian wanted to hear.
“We need something, anything,” he replied. “At the moment, we’re stuck here in Schwyz because there’s no point in moving unless we have a definite indication of where these two are.”
Toscanelli fell silent for a couple of seconds, wondering if he should mention the other matter that he had so far not discussed with Vitale.
“There’s something else,” he said. “We weren’t the only ones looking for Mallory and Jessop in that cave system. When we came out we were stopped by a sniper team, the man with the long rifle hidden somewhere on the hillside and completely out of our reach, while his spotter turned up at the bottom of the valley with a combat shotgun. There was nothing we could do about either of them, and they held us there waiting for some other people to appear.”
“Go on.” Vitale’s voice sounded dangerously calm.
“A group of six men appeared, and from their appearance and conduct, and what they obviously knew, my guess is that
their leader was a senior member of the Swiss government. They were after the chests as well, and they looked at the contents of the six that we had recovered, but decided that they weren’t whatever they were looking for. They told us to leave Switzerland immediately, and threatened to kill us if we didn’t. Have your contacts heard anything about this?”
“It was mentioned, yes,” Vitale replied, “by one of the men I have spoken to. I wondered when you were going to bother telling me about it. If you’re expecting me or the order to intervene, you’re wasting your breath. We have long arms, but the upper echelons of the Swiss government are out of our reach. That’s a problem that you’re going to have to sort out on your own.”
“Anything?” Mario asked as Toscanelli ended the call.
“Nothing so far. There’s no point in moving from here, so we’ll just check out of the hotel and find somewhere else to stay. That will at least make it look as if we’re obeying that Swiss official. But until Vitale comes up with something definite, we’re stuck here and there’s nothing else we can do.”
But a few minutes later, sitting in their hire car having collected their bags from the hotel and paid the bill, he changed his mind.
“No, we can’t just sit here,” Toscanelli said. “This is the first place that Swiss guy will look for us, which is bad enough, but I’m also pretty certain that Mallory and Jessop are long gone.”
“I agree,” Mario said. “Getting out of here is a really good idea. The problem is that we don’t even know which direction to head.”
“We don’t know, but I think we can make a guess.” Toscanelli opened up a relief map of central Switzerland and pointed at their present location. “We’re here, and while we don’t know what the English pair have in mind, it makes sense that they would want freedom of movement, and that really means they must have headed north. If you look the map, down to the south of the town there are basically only two roads, one heading east and the other one going south along the shore of that lake. We know these two are cautious, and so I don’t believe they’d have taken either of these routes, just because they’d have a huge lack of options if they did. One roadblock could trap them and that would be that. I think they’ve gone north. There are several roads up to the north of this place and if you go a bit farther there’s a railway station and an autoroute as well. They’re somewhere up there.”
Mario and Salvatori both stared at the map, following Toscanelli’s reasoning.
“That makes sense,” Salvatori said, “but how far do you want to go?”
“Not far, and we need to stay close enough to the main roads so that when Vitale does come through with a sighting, we can move quickly.” He looked at the map for a few moments, then pointed. “We’ll go there,” he decided. “Rothenthurm. It’s got a railway station and Route 8 runs pretty much through the middle of it.”
* * *
It was late evening when Mallory and Robin returned to the hotel. Implementing her plan had taken longer than they had expected, because it was immediately clear that
Richterswil was too small to provide what they needed, and so the very first thing they’d done was to drive the twenty miles or so northwest, following the shoreline of the lake up to Zürich. There, they’d separated, Mallory searching for a very particular kind of shop and an even more specific type of purchase while Robin headed in a completely different direction with a different aim in view.
The first two places Mallory tried had nothing suitable, but in the third one he found almost exactly what Robin had told him to look for. It was more expensive than he had anticipated, and the shopkeeper was notably inflexible about the price, but he did have sufficient cash to cover it. Robin had had a slightly easier time of it, because the very first shop she went into was exactly suited to her needs. She made a number of purchases, and then insisted that the shopkeeper comply with two other requests before she handed over the money.
They met up back at the car, with two more tasks to achieve. The first took less than five minutes at a garage, while the second took very little longer. Although that was a crucial part of Robin’s scheme, it proved to be almost the easiest job of the lot, the company they selected having both the materials they needed and a complete lack of curiosity about their objective. The staff there also expressed no doubts at all about the description Mallory inserted in the appropriate field on one of the forms that had to be completed.
They’d celebrated with a hasty meal in a backstreet restaurant before driving back to their hotel.
“I do rather wonder if all that lot was overkill,” Robin
mused when they walked back into the bedroom. “I mean, we could have just gone for it. We’re quite close to the border with Liechtenstein. We could have stuck everything in the back of the car and driven out of here.”
“The only problem with that idea is that Switzerland isn’t part of the Schengen group—which seems to be falling apart anyway—but if we’d crossed the Swiss border in the car, there’s a pretty good chance that we would have been stopped and perhaps the vehicle might even be searched. I have no idea what Swiss laws are about the removal of ancient relics from the country, but I’m reasonably certain they wouldn’t just say that it was all okay and wave us through. This way is definitely safer. A lot more complicated, but a whole lot safer.”
“So we’ll cross the border tomorrow, in daylight?”
Mallory nodded. “Crossing at night is probably a bad idea, simply because the crossing points will be much quieter. But tomorrow morning there should be a good flow of vehicles in both directions and we should be able to slip through unnoticed in the traffic.”
* * *
“Nothing?” Marcel sounded incredulous. “Two people can’t just vanish like that, not in a country like Switzerland.”
“We have no record of any credit card transactions,” his assistant said, “and no indication that they have taken a hotel anywhere or hired another car. In fact, according to the company from which they hired the original vehicle, they’re still driving around in it. The only positive indication that they are still in the country is that their
passports haven’t been scanned at any of the airports or border crossing posts. But as you know, that isn’t entirely foolproof.”
“And there’s nothing else?”
“Just one unconfirmed and inconclusive report. A vehicle that might have been the one they hired when they arrived in Switzerland was recorded by a traffic camera in Zürich a couple of hours ago. The car was the right make, model, and color, but it was in fairly heavy traffic and the camera did not record a clear image of its registration plate. The officer I spoke to was only prepared to say that it might been the car we’re looking for. According to the registration database, there are just over thirty cars in Switzerland that could be a match, vehicles that have the right partial registration and are the correct model and color.”
Marcel nodded. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.
“Which direction was it heading?” he asked.
The assistant looked at the printed report in his hand. “It was on the southern outskirts of the city and it was heading north, toward the center.”
“That would also take it toward the airport,” Marcel said. “Increase surveillance there and around Zürich itself. If they try to board an aircraft, arrest them on suspicion of stealing valuable archaeological material. And the moment there any other sightings of the car, call me.”
He pulled up a detailed map of Switzerland on the screen of his desktop computer and studied it for a few moments. Then he appeared to come to a decision.
“There are too many places for these two people to hide,” he said. “We need to find them and flush them out as quickly as possible. Implement the second phase of the search immediately. If you have any problems with the media, refer them directly to me.”
They had an early breakfast in the hotel and then returned to their room to pack their few possessions. They were almost ready to leave when Mallory’s attention was drawn to the television screen on the opposite side of the room. They’d put it on more or less as a reflex action when they woke up that morning, and while Robin had been taking a shower Mallory had flicked through the channels hoping to find something in English that wasn’t a news program.
He had left the set tuned to one of the local Swiss channels with the sound muted, and even as he watched the moving images a sense of cold and compelling familiarity washed over him, because what the screen was displaying at that precise moment was quite definitely the valley at the end of which the forked waterfall tumbled into the pool at the base of the cliff.
He grabbed the remote control, aimed it at the television, and increased the volume.
The newscaster or reporter was speaking in German and Mallory glanced across at Robin to see if she was listening, which she was. But then any doubt about the substance of the report was immediately removed when two photographs, undeniably showing both Mallory and Robin, appeared on the screen behind a newscaster sitting in a studio. And then a strapline appeared at the bottom of the screen giving a number for people to call. And, again, there was no doubt about the organization that was interested in them, because beside the number was a single word:
. As the newscaster moved on to a different story, Mallory turned to Robin.
“What was all that about?” he asked.
“Nothing good,” Robin replied. “I didn’t follow everything in that report, because my German’s not that good, but apparently we’re wanted by the police, and not for stealing antiquities or anything as mundane as that. According to that reporter, we’re wanted for murder.”
“The Italian in the tunnel,” Mallory said as realization dawned. “We need to get out of here, right now.”
As if to emphasize his words, at that very moment they heard the distant sound of a police siren, steadily getting closer.
“I hope that’s nothing to do with us,” Robin said, standing up and picking up her computer case. Mallory had already placed all the deeds in the chest, which was in the soft bag they’d bought to conceal it.
As they walked to the door of the bedroom, they both realized that the noise of the siren had stopped abruptly.
“We’ll take the fire escape,” Mallory said. “I don’t know much about the Swiss police, but that car could well be coming for us, using the siren to cut through the traffic, and then killing it close to their destination so as not to spook the targets. Maybe the receptionist saw the same news report that we did, or perhaps an earlier version, and made the call.”
The fire escape was at the end of the corridor opposite the main staircase. Mallory walked briskly over to it and gave the horizontal bar a hard shove to open it. From somewhere behind him he heard the sound of an alarm. Obviously there was a trip on the emergency exit that indicated when it had been opened. He ignored it and headed down the metal staircase outside the building, carrying the soft bag containing the chest, the heaviest single item, and with his computer bag slung over his shoulder. Robin was close behind him lugging everything else—they were traveling light, and apart from the chest they had only an overnight bag and their two computer cases.
The hotel had no dedicated parking area, only a drop-off zone in front of the main door, and Mallory had left their hire car on a side street behind the building. At the bottom of the fire escape, he turned left and began to walk as quickly as he could along the pavement toward their vehicle, Robin easily keeping pace with him.
When he was a few yards away from the vehicle, he used the remote control to unlock the doors, and the
moment he reached it he lifted the lid of the trunk and swung the soft case inside, followed by his computer bag. The two items Robin was carrying followed immediately. Then Mallory headed for the passenger-side door, handing the keys to Robin as he did so.
“Just in case,” he said. “You’re better at this than I am.”
In a series of economical and fluid movements, Robin sat down in the driver’s seat of the hire car, depressed the clutch pedal, started the engine, engaged first gear, and altered the position of the rearview mirror. Then she pulled out from the side of the road, buckling her seat belt as she did so. She accelerated gently, knowing that squealing tires and aggressive driving would just make it more likely that somebody, and especially a police officer, would see them.
Because she was constantly checking her mirrors, Robin very clearly saw two uniformed figures appear behind the hotel to stare up and down the street, just as she made a left turn.
“Good call on the siren,” she said. “Two members of the Swiss thin blue line have just appeared at the back of the hotel. I don’t think there’s any doubt who they were looking for.”
“Did they spot the car?”
“No idea, because I turned off the street at pretty much the same time, but they probably did. So where to?” she asked.
“That’s a bloody good question,” Mallory said.
“And have you got a bloody good answer? Because we’re coming up to a main road and I need to go either left or right.”
“Because they plastered our faces all over the Swiss television network,” Mallory said, “trying to cross the border probably isn’t going to work. They’re bound to have our mug shots there as well. Maybe we should have tried to do that last night after all. I think we should just try to get out of this town and head south or west while we try to figure out what to do next.”
“Got it,” Robin said, and swung the car to the right at the T-junction. She increased speed only to the legal limit, again to avoid attracting attention, and then took the next westbound road she saw, the 388 signposted to Gruenfeld.
Once again, Mallory was quietly impressed by Robin’s skill behind the wheel. The hire car was fitted with a diesel engine, and she used the gearbox the way the conductor of an orchestra uses his baton to keep the engine revolutions at the optimum level, the band where the motor would generate the most power and torque. The changes were so slick it was almost like being driven in a car with an automatic gearbox. The moment she cleared the town limits and drove onto the open road, she really wound it up, using the whole of the road where appropriate and safe to do so.
“I think it was the racing driver Graham Hill who said that his job was basically straightening out corners,” Mallory said, “and for the first time I can see exactly what he meant.”
Robin nodded, and a slight smile crossed her face, but she didn’t respond, her concentration absolute.
A couple of minutes later, Robin saw the unmistakable
flashing of the lights on a roof bar of a police vehicle some distance behind them, as the road swung around in a wide curve to the south.
“We’ve got company,” she said, “but quite a long way back. Maybe half a mile or so.”
Mallory turned round in his seat to look through the rear window of the car.
“Can you lose them?” he asked.
“That depends on the driver and what car he’s sitting in. This rental isn’t exactly the fastest thing on the road, and if he’s in a big-engined BMW sedan or something like that, he’s going to reel us in no matter what I do. But if he’s in an SUV, I’ll leave him eating my dust. But,” she added, “that’s not what I’m worried about. It doesn’t matter how good a driver you are or how fast a car you’ve got, the solid fact is that you can’t outrun the police. They can set up roadblocks, vector other vehicles to join the chase, and ultimately stick a chopper in the air and track you that way. We can’t outrun him, and I’m not sure we can outdrive him, so what we really have to do is lose him.”
“And that,” Mallory responded, “means we have to opt for plan B. It’s sooner than I was expecting to have to do it, but we both know what’s involved. And right now I don’t see we have any other options.”
“Got it. Let’s hope it works.”
“We’re just coming up to the junction with the A3 autoroute,” Mallory said, just moments later. “Do you want to try losing him on that?”
Robin shook her head. “Definitely not. Too few exits
and it’s too easy to block that kind of road. We’re better off sticking to the back doubles.”
* * *
Toscanelli’s mobile rang, and when he snatched it up he saw that the caller was Silvio Vitale.
“I hope he’s finally found something,” he said, swiping his finger across the screen to answer the call.
“If you’re not in the car, get in it and start driving,” Vitale instructed. “One of our tertiaries working for the local police force has just reported that the targets have been seen driving away from a town named Richterswil near Lake Zürich and are heading south more or less toward you. The Swiss police are in pursuit, but they haven’t caught them yet. Keep this line open, and I’ll relay the position information as soon as I get it.”
“We’ll be mobile in two minutes,” Toscanelli promised.
Salvatori was the fastest driver of the three of them, so he took the wheel and steered the car out of Rothenthurm and took the main road heading north. And until Vitale came through with any further information, that was all they could do, and Toscanelli knew it.
“The targets are southbound on the 388,” Vitale reported. “According to my contact, if they stay on that they’ll join Route 8 at a place called Schindellegi, and that road runs south direct to Schwyz, so if you start heading north there’s a good chance you’ll be able to intercept them, hopefully before the Swiss police do.”
“We’re on that road right now. We weren’t at Schwyz. We moved north to Rothenthurm last night, and we’re
just leaving the town. That puts us only about ten kilometers south of Schindellegi.”
“Are you armed?” Vitale asked.
“We were,” Toscanelli responded, sounding irritated, “but the Swiss group that intercepted us by the waterfall took our pistols. We haven’t had time to do anything about that yet.”
“Well, the good news is that the targets probably aren’t armed, either, so it’ll be a level playing field. You’ll just have to improvise. Don’t forget you can use the car as a weapon. Force them off the road somewhere.”
“And if the Swiss police are right behind them?”
“Then that’s your problem. You’ll just have to work it out. But I can give you a name that will help. Another of our sympathizers is a minister in the Swiss government. He would rather his name wasn’t mentioned in this incident, but if there is no other way to obtain the chest, you are authorized to state that you are acting on behalf of Gunther Kleinmann, and he will confirm this if the police contact him. They will have access to a confidential directory that will list his telephone number. But whatever happens, don’t come back without that chest and the documents inside it.”
* * *
“He’s still there,” Robin said, “but I don’t think he’s any closer.”
Mallory didn’t respond immediately because he was using the GPS and mapping facility built into his smartphone to try to work out a way of losing the police car.
“At the end of this straight piece of road,” he said, “there’s a gentle right-hand bend, looks quite fast. Then the road straightens up and there’s a gentle left-hand bend. Maybe a hundred yards after the first bend there’s a turning on the right. If the cops aren’t in sight, take that. The road gets narrower and ends up winding its way into the hills, and there are lots of turnings up there where we can lose ourselves.”
As they reached the first bend, Robin checked the mirror, but the police car was not in sight. She braked firmly but gently so as not to leave obvious skid marks on the road, then made the turn onto a much narrower road and accelerated hard. After a couple of hundred yards, the road bent quite sharply around to the left, and once they made that turn they were completely out of sight of the other road.
“Now that we’ve got some breathing space,” Robin said, slowing down slightly, “what do we do next?”
“Keep going,” Mallory said. “It won’t take the Swiss plods long to realize that we must have turned off somewhere. They’ll start backtracking and punch a chopper into the air, and sooner or later they’ll find us. So we need to make sure that when they do reach us, it’s at a place of our choosing, where we still have some control.”
Mallory studied the map on his phone for a minute or so while Robin concentrated on keeping the car moving as quickly as possible along the road he had told her to take.
“This area is a warren of roads following the valleys and leading up into the mountains,” he said. “We’ve got
two choices, as I see it. We can keep dodging the police, getting ourselves deeper and deeper into the Swiss countryside and eventually being cornered, or we can pick our own spot to end this and just wait for them to find us. Hopefully we’ll be able to walk away if we do it right.”
“We talked about it,” Robin said, “and I still think it’s the only option we have. Let’s do this on our terms.”
“Right,” he said. “In a minute or two you’ll come to a Y-junction. Take the left fork. It might be signposted to a place called Hütten. When we get to that village, we’ll turn left and start climbing. That’ll take us over a river and up into the hills. Then we can pick a spot and just wait.”
A few minutes later, they saw a scattering of houses that marked the beginning of the village. Robin slowed down and they both started looking for the junction Mallory had described.
“There,” he said, pointing to the left-hand side of the street, where a narrow road angled off toward the higher ground.
Robin indicated and took the turning. This road followed the contours of the land, meaning that it was rarely straight. After about a quarter of a mile, and just after a sharp bend to the right, they saw a bridge over the river Sihl right in front of them. They crossed it and immediately the road turned back on itself, and then swung the other way again almost immediately. There was a left-hand junction on that bend, but Mallory pointed to the right and they followed the road around the side of the hill.