Authors: James Becker
From this vantage point, significantly higher than the
land they had just left, they could see some distance behind them.
“I can see flashing lights again,” Mallory said, looking back over the valley. “I didn’t think it would take them long to find us.”
He leaned forward and peered through the windscreen, looking up into the sky.
“There’s a helicopter,” he said, pointing. “Probably two or three thousand feet above us. That’ll be relaying information to the local control room and probably direct to the cars on the ground as well.”
“This road’s a dead end,” Robin said. “I just saw a sign. Where do you want me to stop?”
“Somewhere open, where we can see anybody approaching us, so ideally above the tree line.”
A couple of minutes later, Robin steered the car off the road and onto a rough track that petered out after only a few yards. Beyond it, the ground climbed gently toward the nearest peak.
“Will this do?” Robin asked.
“It’s pretty nearly perfect,” Mallory said. “Let’s get moving.”
He opened the trunk of the car, lifted out the bulky soft bag, and strode away with it up the slope. Robin followed a few feet behind him carrying the other purchase they had made the previous evening.
When they got about a hundred yards clear of the car, they stopped on a slight rise that offered them a clear view of their surroundings. Mallory lowered the soft bag to
the ground, released the zip, and lifted out the contents, the ancient wood of the chest glowing in the sunlight.
Then they just stood there, waiting.
* * *
“They’ve stopped,” Vitale said. “I’m getting the feed through our tertiary at the same time as the police on the ground. Stand by for a location. Right, it’s a dead-end road above a village called Hütten.”
He passed Toscanelli the correct grid reference.
“We’re less than two minutes away,” the Italian said, checking the map, and urged Salvatori to drive even more quickly.
“According to the crew in the helicopter,” Vitale added, “the two targets have left the vehicle and have walked up the hill where it’s parked. Mallory is carrying some kind of box.”
“That must be the chest with the deeds. But what the hell is he doing? He can’t get away.”
“No doubt you’ll find out in a few minutes,” Vitale said. “And according to my source, the helicopter is carrying a sniper team, and they’ll be dropping them off anytime now.”
* * *
Mallory watched intently as the helicopter came to a low hover a couple of hundred yards away to their right. A single figure disembarked from the aircraft and immediately vanished from sight.
“The Swiss are playing for keeps,” he said. “I think that chopper’s just dropped off a sniper.”
“Are you sure?”
“No, but I can’t think of anybody else likely to be wearing a ghillie suit, carrying a rifle, and being ferried around in a Swiss military helicopter.”
Robin shivered involuntarily.
“I hope to hell this works,” she said.
They could now both see and hear the approaching police car winding its way up the hill road, siren blaring and lights on the roof bar flashing a sporadic accompaniment. Just before it turned up the short path that Robin had taken, the helicopter swooped low over the limited area of level ground by the road and then landed.
The sound of the twin jet engines died away to a whine as the rotor disk visibly slowed its rotation. As soon as the rotors came to a stop, the rear doors opened and three men appeared. One was also wearing a ghillie suit, but he was carrying what looked to Mallory like a combat shotgun rather than a sniper rifle, and he guessed that it was a two-man team—a sniper and a spotter—but because of the close range and open terrain the sniper was able to work alone. The spotter, he assumed, would probably be in radio communication with his partner, and would be there to quite literally call the shots.
Somewhat incongruously, the other two men were both wearing dark suits. All three stared up the hill to where Mallory and Robin were standing, the ancient wooden chest in front of them. The crew of the police car stepped out of their vehicle at that moment, and one of the men wearing a suit walked over to them, appeared to
show some form of identification, and then issued instructions to them.
* * *
“I can see a helicopter,” Salvatori said, “just around the next corner. It looks like a military bird. And there’s a police car parked a few meters off the road as well. What do you want me to do?”
Toscanelli hesitated for a few moments, then nodded.
“I’d hoped to beat them to it,” he said, “but now we really have no choice. Drive up and park next to the police car and we’ll try to talk our way into getting the chest.”
Salvatori swung the car off the road and braked it to a stop. The three men climbed out and strode briskly toward the two waiting police officers. But they never got there.
“I thought I told you to get out of Switzerland,” an unpleasantly familiar voice said, and Marcel moved into view from the other side of the helicopter. “What are you doing here? And how did you find out what was going on?”
“We have contacts,” Toscanelli said. “High-level contacts in your government. We’re working on behalf of Gunther Kleinmann. If you check with him, he will confirm that. He has authorized us to take possession of the chest that the English couple found in the cavern.”
“Has he, now? The bad news for you is that I outrank Kleinmann and, more important, I’m here on the spot, so it’ll be my decision. But you’d better get used to the idea that you won’t be taking possession of that relic. And I’ll be talking to Gunther about this.”
Marcel shook his head, then motioned one of the
policemen forward. He spoke to him in rapid German, then turned back to Toscanelli.
“You will stay here while we resolve this situation. If you move from this spot, I’ve instructed this officer to shoot you. Do not make the mistake of thinking that he will not do so. Here, I am the law, and he will obey me.”
Then Marcel turned away and walked back to where his companion and the spotter were waiting.
* * *
“This looks like the reception committee,” Mallory said, looking down the hill to where the two men dressed in suits were walking steadily toward him, the spotter in the ghillie suit a few paces behind, his combat shotgun held ready for any trouble.
He bent down and, out of sight of the approaching three men, released the cap on the metal container that they had purchased in the garage in Zürich the previous evening.
“Are you doing it now?” Robin asked.
“No, not yet. I’m just getting ready. We’ll stick with what we planned.”
When the men were about fifty yards away, Robin leaned over and gave Mallory a brief kiss full on the lips.
“Wish me luck,” she said, then turned and walked down the hill to meet the approaching trio.
The moment she started moving, the three men stopped and just watched her. The spotter murmured something into the earpiece he was wearing, and immediately the bright red dot of a laser designator appeared on Robin’s back and held steady as she walked down the slope.
“You must be Robin Jessop,” one of the men wearing a suit said. “My real name is unimportant, but you may call me Marcel.”
“I don’t think we’re going to have a long enough acquaintance to get to know each other on Christian name terms,” Robin replied sharply.
“Perhaps not. First, let me congratulate you on locating the Templar Archive. We’ve been searching for it, off and on, for about the last five hundred years. I presume you found some clue that everybody else had missed?”
“More like a series of clues, really, but how we found it isn’t nearly as important as what we should do with it. I’m a bookseller. I specialize in antiquarian works, and what I’ve read in those deeds has convinced me that the entire archive is of immense international importance.”
“Maybe, but I—” Marcel said, but Robin immediately interrupted him.
“Please, let me finish. As I said, it’s a hugely important archaeological find, one that would add enormously to our understanding of the medieval period and specifically clarify the way that the Knights Templar conducted their financial business. On the other hand, and I hate saying this with every fiber of my being, it’s an incredibly dangerous collection of records. In the wrong hands, it could create havoc throughout Europe.”
She paused briefly and pointed down the hill at where Toscanelli and his two companions stood, glowering up at her. “I can see that you’ve already encountered some of the Italians who’ve been dogging our footsteps. When I mentioned the ‘wrong hands,’ those were exactly the
kind of people that I had in mind. I don’t know what they would do with the archive if they got possession of it, but I’m quite sure that studying it properly and scientifically would come quite a long way down the list.”
“A remarkably accurate analysis, if I may say so,” he said. “So what are you suggesting?”
“I’m not suggesting anything,” Robin replied. “We’ve already decided, my partner and I, that the only safe thing to do with the archive is to utterly destroy it.”
She turned back toward Mallory and gave a brief nod. “We’re not prepared to hand it over to anybody, here or in any other country, simply because we can’t trust anyone else’s motives. So we’re going to destroy it ourselves right now to make sure.”
Behind her, Mallory opened the lid of the chest and then upended the red can of petrol that they’d bought in the garage, splashing the highly volatile liquid over both the ancient wood and the paper and parchment documents that were inside it. Once the can was empty, he replaced the cap, took a step back, fished in his pocket for a box of matches, struck one, and dropped it straight into the chest.
There was an audible
as the fuel ignited, and a sheet of flame leaped some three or four feet into the air as the fire immediately took hold.
For a moment, Robin wondered if Marcel—or whatever his real name was—was going to try to intervene. The police car would almost certainly carry a fire extinguisher as part of its standard equipment. But he just stood there,
apparently quite relaxed, watching the conflagration as both the ancient documents and the wooden chest were steadily consumed by the flames.
“I think,” Marcel murmured, as the flames began to die away, “that that is what you English call a fait accompli. I don’t disagree with your motives, but I would have very much liked to get the documents studied before they were destroyed. But rest assured, if we had taken possession of them, ultimately we, too, would have consigned them to the flames. They were just too dangerous, and potentially too destabilizing, to be allowed to exist.”
“So what now?” Robin asked. “We saw the television news report that said we were wanted for murder.”
Marcel nodded. “Once we realized that you had found a way out of the cave system, most probably with the Templar Archive, we initiated an immediate search for both of you. But somehow you managed to evade all of our normal surveillance procedures, and so the only recourse we had left was to get your faces out there so that the ordinary citizens of Switzerland could help us find you. And there was, after all, a dead man lying somewhere in the cave. Somebody was responsible for that, and it was a convenient hook to use in the police report.”
“But you do know, I hope, that we had nothing to do with it. We have no idea how he died, but we assume that he was probably caught by one of the Templar booby traps hidden in the cavern.”
“I do know that. The police report was my idea, and I will ensure that the appropriate steps are taken to sanitize the record and eliminate your details from it.”
“Thank you. I’ve recorded what you just said on my phone, just in case there’s a problem in the future. And so I ask you again, what now?”
Marcel looked behind her, up the slope to where the last few bits of the wooden chest were still burning fitfully.
“I think we’re done here,” he said, “and as far as I’m concerned you’re free to go. I’ll ensure that you experience no problems at any of our airports if you fly home or at our border crossings if you decide to drive out of the country. Thank you for locating the archive, and thank you again for doing the right thing with it.”
As Marcel turned away, the red laser designator on Robin’s back snapped off. Mallory walked down the hill to join her, and together they made their way back to their hire car.
“You haven’t heard the last of this, Mallory,” Toscanelli spat as they walked past him. “If it’s the last thing I do I’m going to kill you. Both of you.”
“Are you?” Mallory said. “You’ve tried before a few times, as I recall, but you really don’t seem very good at it.”
“I don’t know if it’s of any interest to you, Marcel,” Robin said, “but this man is wanted for murder in England.”
Toscanelli’s face paled as he realized the implications of what she had just said.
“Is he, now?” The Swiss government official sounded interested. “In that case,” he said, “it might be as well if I made a couple of phone calls as soon as I get back to the office.”
The Italian glared at Mallory and Robin, then turned
tail and strode back to his car with his two companions. Seconds later, it drove off down the road at speed.
“You’ve obviously met him before.”
“Yes. He nearly killed us in Britain and later on tried again in Cyprus,” Robin said.
“It might help you to know his name. His passport was copied when he entered the country. A routine precaution. He’s Marco Toscanelli, or at least that’s the name in his passport. Perhaps the British police could create an international arrest warrant for him. Obviously we can’t hold him here in Switzerland, because he’s committed no crime here that we’re aware of, and we have received no request from any other country to arrest or extradite him.”
Marcel nodded to Robin, briefly shook hands with Mallory, then climbed back into his helicopter with his companions. The jet engines on the aircraft started up with a whine that grew into a roar. The rotors began turning and it lifted up into the air. The pilot flew just a short distance to pick up the sniper from the hillside, and then it climbed into the air and quickly vanished out of sight behind the mountain.