A Matter of Honorby Jeffrey Archer
Within days, Adam's lover is brutally murdered and he's running for his life through the great cities
It seems innocent enough. A disgraced British colonel bequeaths a mysterious letter to his only son. But the moment Adam Scott opens the yellowing envelope, he sets into motion a deadly chain of events that threatens to shake the very foundations of the free world.
Within days, Adam's lover is brutally murdered and he's running for his life through the great cities of Europe, pursued not only by the KGB, but by the CIA and his own countrymen as well. Their common intent is to kill him before the truth comes out. While powerful men in smoke-filled rooms plot ever more ingenious means of destroying him, Adam finds himself betrayed and abandoned even by those he holds most dear.
When at last he comes to understand what he is in possession of, he's even more determined to protect it, for it's more than a matter of life and death - it's a matter of honor.
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A Matter of Honor
By Jeffrey Archer
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1986 Jeffrey Archer
All rights reserved.
THE KREMLIN MAY 19, 1966
"IT'S A FAKE," said the Russian leader, staring down at the small exquisite painting he held in his hands.
"That can't be possible," replied his Politburo colleague. "The Czar's icon of Saint George and the dragon has been in the Winter Palace at Leningrad under heavy guard for over fifty years."
"True, Comrade Zaborski," said the old man, "but for fifty years we've been guarding a fake. The Czar must have removed the original sometime before the Red Army entered Petrograd and overran the Winter Palace."
The head of state security moved restlessly in his chair as the cat-and-mouse game continued. Yuri Zaborski knew after years of running the KGB who had been cast as the mouse the moment his phone had rung at four that morning to say that the General Secretary required him to report to the Kremlin office—immediately.
"How can you be so sure it's a fake, Leonid Ilyich?" the diminutive figure inquired.
"Because, my dear Zaborski, during the past eighteen months the age of all the treasures in the Winter Palace has been tested by carbon dating, the modern scientific process that does not call for a second opinion," said Brezhnev, displaying his newfound knowledge. "And what we have always thought to be one of the nation's masterpieces," he continued, "turns out to have been painted five hundred years after Rublev's original."
"But by whom and for what purpose?" asked the Chairman of the Committee for State Security, his voice incredulous.
"The experts tell me it was probably a court painter," replied the Russian leader,"who must have been commissioned to execute the copy only months before the Revolution took place. It has always worried the curator at the Winter Palace that the Czar's traditional silver crown was not attached to the back of the frame, as it was to all his other masterpieces," added Brezhnev.
"But I always thought that the silver crown had been removed by a souvenir hunter even before we had entered Petrograd."
"No," said the General Secretary dryly, his bushy eyebrows rising every time he completed a statement. "It wasn't the Czar's silver crown that had been removed, but the painting itself."
"Then what can the Czar have done with the original?" the Chairman said, almost as if he were asking himself the question.
"That is exactly what I want to know, Comrade," said Brezhnev, resting his hands on the desk and dwarfing the little painting that remained in front of him. "And you are the one who has been chosen to come up with the answer," he added.
For the first time the Chairman of the KGB looked unsure of himself.
"Do you have anything for me to go on?"
"Very little," admitted the General Secretary, flicking open a file that he removed from the top drawer of his desk. He stared down at the closely typed notes headed, "The Significance of the Icon in Russian History." Someone had been up all through the night preparing a ten-page report that the leader had only found time to scan. Brezhnev's real interest began on page four. He quickly turned over the first three pages before reading aloud: "'At the time of the Revolution, Czar Nikolai II obviously saw Rublev's masterpiece as his passport to freedom in the West. He must have had a copy made, which he then left on his study wall, where the original had previously hung.'" The Russian leader looked up. "Beyond that we have little to go on."
The head of the KGB looked perplexed. He remained puzzled as to why his leader should want state security involved in the theft of a minor masterpiece. "And how important is it that we find the original?" he asked, trying to pick up a further clue.
Leonid Brezhnev stared down at his Kremlin colleague.
"Nothing could be more important, Comrade," came back the reply. "And I shall grant you any resources you may consider necessary in terms of people and finance in your quest to discover the whereabouts of the Czar's icon."
"But if I were to take you at your word, Comrade General Secretary," said the head of the KGB, trying to disguise his disbelief, "I could so easily end up spending far more than the painting is worth."
"That would not be possible," said Brezhnev, pausing for effect, "because it's not the icon itself that I'm after." He turned his back on the Chairman for State Security and stared out of the window. He had always disliked not being able to see over the Kremlin wall and into Red Square. He waited for some moments before he proclaimed, "The money the Czar might have raised from selling such a masterpiece would only have kept Nikolai in his accustomed life-style for a matter of months, perhaps a year at the most. No, it's what we feel certain that the Czar had secreted inside the icon that would have guaranteed security for himself and his family for the rest of their days."
A little circle of condensation formed on the windowpane in front of the General Secretary.
"What could possibly be that valuable?" asked the Chairman.
"Do you remember, Comrade, what the Czar promised Lenin in exchange for his life?"
"Yes, but it turned out to be a bluff because no such document was hidden...." He stopped himself just before saying "in the icon."
Zaborski stood silently, unable to witness Brezhnev's triumphant smile.
"You have caught up with me at last, Comrade. You see, the document was hidden in the icon all the time. We just had the wrong icon."
The Russian leader waited for some time before he turned back and passed over to his colleague a single sheet of paper. "This is the Czar's testimony indicating what we would find in the icon of Saint George and the dragon. At the time, nothing was discovered in the icon, which only convinced Lenin that it had been a pathetic bluff by the Czar to save his family from execution."
Yuri Efimovich Zaborski slowly read the hand-written testimony that had been signed by the Czar hours before his execution. Zaborski's hands began to tremble, and a bead of sweat appeared on his forehead long before he had reached the last paragraph. He looked across at the tiny painting, no larger than a book, which remained in the center of the Chairman's desk.
"Not since the death of Lenin," continued Brezhnev, "has anyone believed the Czar's claim, but now there can be little doubt that if we are able to locate the genuine masterpiece, we will undoubtedly also be in possession of the promised document."
"And with the authority of those who signed that document no one could question our legal claim," said Zaborski.
"That would undoubtedly prove to be the case, Comrade Chairman," replied the Russian leader, "and I also feel confident that we would receive the backing of the United Nations and the World Court if the Americans tried to deny us our right. But I fear time is now against us."
"Look at the completion date on the Czar's testimony, and you will see how much time we have left to honor our part of the agreement," said Brezhnev.
Zaborski stared down at the date, June 20, 1966. He handed back the testimony as he considered the enormity of the task with which his leader had entrusted him. Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev continued his monologue.
"So you can see, Comrade Zaborski, we have one month before the deadline, but if you can discover the whereabouts of the original icon, President Johnson's defense strategy would be rendered virtually useless, and the United States would then become a pawn on the Russian chessboard."CHAPTER 2
APPLESHAW, HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND JUNE 1966
"'AND TO MY dearly beloved son, Captain Adam Scott, M.C., I bequeath the sum of five hundred pounds.'"
Although Adam had anticipated the amount would be pitiful, he nevertheless remained bolt upright in his chair as the solicitor glanced over his half-moon spectacles.
The old lawyer who was seated behind the large partner's desk raised his head and blinked at the handsome young man before him. Adam put a hand nervously through his thick black hair, suddenly conscious of the lawyer's stare. Then Mr. Holbrooke's eyes returned to the papers in front of him.
"'And to my dearly behoved daughter, Margaret Scott, I bequeath the sum of four hundred pounds.'" Adam was unable to prevent a small grin spreading across his face. Even in the minutiae of his final act, father had remained a chauvinist.
"'To the Hampshire County Cricket Club,'" droned on Mr. Holbrooke, unperturbed by Miss Scott's relative misfortunes, "'twenty-five pounds, life membership, finally paid up. To the Old Contemptibles, fifteen pounds. And to the Appleshaw Parish Church, ten pounds.'" Death membership, thought Adam. "'To Wilf Proudfoot, our loyal gardener part-time, ten pounds, and to Mrs. Mavis Cox, our daily help, five pounds.
"'And finally, to my dearly beloved wife Susan, our marital home, and the remainder of my estate.'" This pronouncement made Adam want to laugh out loud because he doubted if the remainder of Pa's estate, even if they sold his premium bonds and the prewar golf clubs, amounted to more than another thousand pounds.
But Mother was a daughter of the regiment and wouldn't complain, she never did. If God ever announced the saints, as opposed to some Pope in Rome, Saint Susan of Appleshaw would be up there with Mary and Elizabeth. All through his life Pa, as Adam always thought of his father, had set such high standards for the family to live up to. Perhaps that was why Adam continued to admire him above all men. He only hoped that if he ever had a son those standards would be passed on to another generation. Sometimes the very thought made him feel strangely out of place in the swinging sixties.
Adam began to shift in his chair, assuming that the proceedings were now drawing to a close. The sooner they were all out of this cold, drab little office the better, he felt.
Mr. Holbrooke looked up once more and cleared his throat, as if he were about to announce who was to be left the Goya or the Hapsburg diamonds. He pushed his half-moon spectacles farther up the bridge of his nose and stared back down at the last paragraphs of his late client's testament. The three surviving members of the Scott family sat in silence. What could he have to add? thought Adam.
Whatever it was, the solicitor had obviously pondered the final bequest several times, because he delivered the words like a well-versed actor, his eyes returning to the script only once.
"'And I also leave to my son,'" Mr. Holbrooke paused, "'the enclosed envelope,'" he said, holding it up, "'which I can only hope will bring him greater happiness than it did me. Should he decide to open the envelope, it must be on the condition that he will never divulge its contents to any other living person.'" Adam caught his sister's eye, but she only shook her head slightly, obviously as puzzled as he was. He glanced toward his mother, who looked shocked; was it fear or was it distress? Adam couldn't decide.
Without another word, Mr. Holbrooke passed the yellowed envelope over to the colonel's only son.
Everyone in the room remained seated, not quite sure what to do next. Mr. Holbrooke finally closed the thin file marked Col. Gerald Scott, D.S.O., O.B.E., M.C., pushed back his chair, and walked slowly over to the widow. They shook hands and she said, "Thank you," a faintly ridiculous courtesy, Adam felt, as the only person in the room who had made any sort of profit on this particular transaction had been Mr. Holbrooke, and that on behalf of Holbrooke, Holbrooke and Gascoigne.
He rose and went quickly by his mother's side.
"You'll join us for tea, Mr. Holbrooke?" she was asking.
"I fear not, dear lady," the lawyer began, but Adam didn't bother to listen further. Obviously the fee hadn't been large enough to cover Holbrooke taking time off for tea.
Once they had left the office and Adam had ensured his mother and sister were seated comfortably in the back of the family Morris Minor, he took his place behind the steering wheel. He had parked outside Mr. Holbrooke's office in the middle of High Street. No yellow lines in the streets of Appleshaw—yet, he thought. Even before he had switched on the ignition his mother had offered matter-of-factly, "We'll have to get rid of this, you know. I can't afford to run it now, not with petrol at six shillings a gallon."
"Don't let's worry about that today," said Margaret consolingly, but in a voice that accepted that her mother was right. "I wonder what can be in that envelope, Adam," she added, wanting to change the subject.
"Detailed instructions on how to invest my five hundred pounds, no doubt," said her brother, attempting to lighten their mood.
"Don't be disrespectful of the dead," said his mother, the same look of fear returning to her face. "I begged your father to destroy that envelope," she added in a voice that was barely a whisper.
Adam's lips pursed when he realized this must be the envelope his father had referred to all those years ago when Adam had witnessed the one row he would ever see his parents have. Adam still remembered his father's raised voice and angry words just a few days after he had returned from Germany.
"I have to open it, don't you understand?" Pa had insisted.
"Never," his mother had replied. "After all the sacrifices I have made, you at least owe me that."
Over twenty years had passed since that confrontation, and he had never heard the subject referred to again, and the only time Adam ever mentioned it to his sister she could throw no light on what it might have been over.
Adam pressed his foot on the brake as they reached a crossroads at the end of High Street. He turned right and continued to drive out of the village for a mile or so down a winding country lane before bringing the old Morris Minor to a halt. Adam leapt out and opened the trellised gate, whose path led through a neat lawn to a little thatched cottage.
"I'm sure you ought to be getting back to London," were his mother's first words as she entered the drawing room.
"I'm in no hurry, Mother. There's nothing that can't wait until tomorrow."
"Just as you wish, my dear, but you don't have to worry yourself over me," his mother continued. She stared up at the tall young man who reminded her so much of Gerald. He would have been as good- looking as her husband if it weren't for the slight break in his nose. The same dark hair and deep brown eyes, the same open honest face, even the same gentle approach to everyone he came across. But most of all the same high standards of morality that had brought them to their present sad state. "And in any case I've always got Margaret to take care of me," she added. Adam looked across at his sister and wondered how she would now cope with Saint Susan of Appleshaw.
Margaret had recently become engaged to a London stockbroker, and although the marriage had been postponed, she would soon be wanting to start a life of her own. Thank God her finance had already put a down payment on a little house only fourteen miles away.
After tea and a sad uninterrupted monologue from their mother on the virtues and misfortunes of their father, Margaret cleared away and left the two of them alone. They had both loved him in such different ways, although Adam felt that he had never let Pa really know how much he appreciated him.
"Now that you're no longer in the army, my dear, I do hope you'll be able to find a worthwhile job," his mother said uneasily, as she recalled how difficult that had proved to be for his father.
"I'm sure everything will be just fine, Mother," he replied. "The Foreign Office has asked to see me again," he added, hoping to reassure her.
"Still, now that you've got five hundred pounds of your own," she said, "that should make things a little easier for you." Adam smiled fondly at her, wondering when she had last spent a day in London. His share of the Chelsea flat alone was four pounds a week, and he still had to eat occasionally. She raised her eyes and, looking up at the clock on the mantelpiece, said, "You'd better be getting along, my dear, I don't like the thought of you on that motorbike after dark."
Adam bent down to kiss her on the cheek. "I'll give you a call tomorrow," he said. On his way out, he stuck his head around the kitchen door and shouted, to his sister, "I'm off. I'll be sending you a check for fifty pounds."
"Why?" asked Margaret, looking up from the sink.
Excerpted from A Matter of Honor by Jeffrey Archer. Copyright © 1986 Jeffrey Archer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
JEFFREY ARCHER was educated at Oxford University. He became the youngest member of the House of Commons in 1969, was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party in 1985, and was elevated to the House of Lords in 1992. All of his story collections and novels -- including most recently Sons of Fortune -- have been international bestsellers. Archer is married, has two children, and lives in England.
John Lee has read more than 100 audiobooks. His work has garnered multiple Earphones Awards and wonAudioFile's Best Voice in Fiction & Classics in both 2008 and 2009. Lee narrated the audiobook for A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin, volume four of A Song of Ice and Fire. He has also read for Jack London, John Banville, Charles Dickens, and Barbara Taylor Bradford.
- London and the Old Vicarage, Grantchester
- Date of Birth:
- April 15, 1940
- Attended Brasenose College, Oxford, 1963-66. Received a diploma in sports education from Oxford Institute
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