The Hidden Man

The Hidden Man

by Charles Cumming, Tim Goodman
     
 

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Christopher Keen, once a master spy, is murdered in cold blood. His sons Mark and Benjamin, though they hadn't seen their father for over twenty years, are now drawn into the legacy of his life as a spy as they set out to discover the truth and avenge their father's death.

But as their search proceeds, more questions arise—is Christopher's death connected

…  See more details below

Overview

Christopher Keen, once a master spy, is murdered in cold blood. His sons Mark and Benjamin, though they hadn't seen their father for over twenty years, are now drawn into the legacy of his life as a spy as they set out to discover the truth and avenge their father's death.

But as their search proceeds, more questions arise—is Christopher's death connected to his past life in MI6? Was his eldest son involved in a conspiracy that links him to Moscow, Afghanistan, and the Russian mafia? Bestselling author Charles Cumming delivers in The Hidden Man a thriller that delves into the complicated double lives of spies, and what happens when their half-told secrets die with them.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/28/2015
First published in the U.K. in 2003, bestseller Cumming’s enjoyable second novel falls short of the high standard of his later spy thrillers such as 2012’s A Foreign Country. MI5 agent Stephen Taploe is investigating Russian mobster Viktor Kukushkin, who he suspects is laundering crime syndicate money through Libra, a popular London nightclub. Mark Keen, a manager at Libra, seems unaware of the money laundering. Mark is the oldest son of Christopher Keen, who worked for more than 20 years as an MI6 agent and is now employed by the security company Divisar Corporate Intelligence. Because Christopher abandoned his wife and family years before, another son, Ben, hates his father. But after Christopher is killed, Ben and Mark get pulled into the world of international espionage while searching for their father’s murderer. Cummings fans should be prepared for a rushed ending and a cast of characters who are almost uniformly unlikable. Agent: Luke Janklow, Janklow & Nesbit. (Nov.)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781402589317
Publisher:
Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date:
10/26/2004

Read an Excerpt

The Hidden Man


By Charles Cumming

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2003 Charles Cumming
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-36638-4



CHAPTER 1

The Russian is sitting alone on the driver's side of a rented Mercedes-Benz. The key in the ignition has been turned a single click, just enough to power the radio, and it is snowing, wet flakes of soft ice falling like ash in the darkness. A song comes on, an old Sinatra tune the man has not heard in many years: Frank singing live to a room full of screaming Americans hanging off his every note. Sometimes it feels as if his whole life has been lived inside parked cars listening to the radio: sudden movements on side streets; a light snuffing out in a bedroom four floors up; moments of snatched sleep. Cars that smelled of imported cigarettes and the sweat of tired, unwashed men.

A young couple turn the corner into the street ahead of him, walking arm in arm with a jaunty, light-hearted step. Drunk, most probably, coming toward the car and laughing up at the falling snow. They are delighted by it, letting the flakes melt in the palms of upturned hands, embracing one another as it settles in their hair and on their clothes. He thinks the woman, like so many London girls, is worryingly thin: legs like saplings in high-heeled shoes. He fears that she may topple over on the wet pavement and, if she hurts herself, he will have to get out of the car to help her. Then there will be two witnesses who have seen his face.

The song ends and fades into an advertisement narrated in slang and dialect, words he cannot make out. English is no longer clear to him; somehow, in recent years, the language has changed, it has moved away. The couple skip past the Mercedes and he watches them disappear down the street using the mirror on the passenger side. An old technique. No need even to turn his head.

Now he reaches down to switch off the radio and everything is once again silent. Just a very faint impression of traffic in the distance, the city's constant hum. As an extension of the same movement, the Russian turns the catch on the glove box with his left hand, holds it as the casing falls open, and takes out the gun.

This no longer feels like an act of vengeance. It has been too long for that. It is simply a deep need within himself to attain some level of peace, to sew up the wound of his grief. In this sense his need to go through with it is almost like a lust: he has no control over himself, no way now of turning back.

From the back seat of the car he takes a woolen hat and a pair of leather gloves, items purchased at a shop in Hammersmith three days earlier. They are flimsy, but warm enough to cope with the timid British winter. Then he checks the street one last time and steps out of the car.


* * *

The flat is on the fourth floor of a large apartment building at the northeastern end of the street. His legs are stiff and tired as he crosses the road, sore in the knees from waiting so long and tight along the sciatic nerve of his left thigh. Snow falls onto the shoulders of his coat; it flutters into his cheeks like puffs of dandelion. As he is climbing the steps of the building, a woman comes out and, for the first time, the Russian feels a sense of concern. Instinctively, he looks to the ground, taking a bunch of keys from his pocket with the ease and routine of a resident. The woman, mid-forties and slight, is hurried by the snow, muttering under her breath as she springs the catch on an umbrella. The noise of this is like birds breaking for the sky. The two do not look at one another directly, though he knows from experience that this may not be enough to absolve him, that the stranger may have seen his shoes, his trousers, perhaps even caught a glimpse of his face when it first appeared at the door. For an instant he thinks about turning back, but the possibility evaporates in the heat of his obligation. The force of revenge, the lust, carries him through the street door and into the lobby, where a clock on the wall tells him that it is twenty past one.

He has been here before, twice, to premeditate the act, to scout the building for exits, and to get a sense of its layout and design. So he knows that there is a white plastic timer switch inside the front door that will illuminate the stairwell for approximately two minutes, and an old, wrought-iron caged lift on the right-hand side of the lobby, with a staircase leading down to a locked basement and up to seven floors of apartments.

All of his experience has told him to take the stairs, to leave an option should anything go wrong. But he is older now, the fitness ripped from his legs, and has decided to ride the lift to the fifth floor and to walk down a single flight to the fourth as a way of preserving his strength.

The lift is waiting. He slides back the gate and steps inside, pushing a red ceramic button marked 5. The cabin ticks as it passes each floor, slices of red carpet and banister visible through the metal grills of the lift shaft. The aging wheels of the elevator mechanism twist through grease and oil, pulling him up through the building. At the third floor the lights go out on the stairs, sooner than he had anticipated, but a single pearl bulb inside the cabin provides him with enough light to reach into his coat, pull out the gun, and place it in the right-hand pocket of his overcoat.

Now he squints outside, passing level 4, eyes moving quickly left and right to detect any sign of movement. Nothing. The lift continues to climb, halting ten seconds later on the fifth floor with nothing more than a slight jolting bump, like a sprung dance floor. He notices a fresh piece of chewing gum wedged between the roof and the left panel of the cabin. He would like some gum now, something to take the dryness from the inside of his mouth.

Why does he feel nothing? Why, when he is just minutes away from an act that he has envisaged with total clarity and rapture for nearly twenty years, why then has his mind given way to everything but a very basic sense of process and technique? He is trying to convince himself that a moment of catharsis is imminent, but as he pulls back the cabin's metal grill, pushes open the heavy door of the lift with his left hand, reaches into the pocket of his overcoat to release the safety catch on the gun, he is little more than a machine. It is like every other criminal act in his long, corrupted life. Tonight has no special resonance, not yet any sense of joy.

In one of the flats at the end of the corridor, the Russian can hear voices on a television, teenagers shouting at one another, then a screech of tires. A late-night American film. The volume must have been turned up high, because he is able to pick out the noises and his hearing is not what it was. He holds the door of the lift as it swings slowly back on its hinge and then heads for the stairwell, taking each step slowly, keeping his heart rate down. It is very dark and he has to hold on to the banister with a gloved hand, the leather sticking on bumps of dried polish as it slides down the wood. A car sounds its horn on the street just as he reaches the fourth floor.

Simultaneously he feels the first burst of adrenalin, not what it was in his youth, but a quickening nevertheless, lightening his arms and chest. He knows that his heart is beating faster now and has to check his pace moving down the corridor, deliberately slowing as he approaches the door of Apartment 462. Twenty feet away the Russian stops and takes out the set of lockpicks. He sees light glint dully on the metal surface of the keys and finds its source — a fire exit sign at the end of the corridor, bold white lettering within an illuminated green case. Then he pinches the main key between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand and moves toward the door.

With his head pressed to the pale wood, cold against his ears, the Russian listens. No sound inside. Then, way below, there are voices, at least two people, their footsteps clattering on the marble floor of the lobby. Immediately he moves away from the door and walks back to the edge of the stairwell, waiting for the lift to jolt free of the fifth floor and ride back to ground level. But they are walking: when he peers over the banister he can see two heads that stop at the first floor. He assumes — although he can neither see nor hear — that the couple go to an apartment to the right of the staircase, and waits a full minute for silence to re-engulf the building before returning to the door.

Perhaps the distraction has hurried him, for the Russian listens only briefly now before sliding the key, with extraordinary slowness, into the lock. A perfect fit. He pushes open the door, just enough to fit through, and winces as it scrapes on linoleum. Immediately there is the smell of good, fresh coffee; the flat is thick with it. His eyes adjust to the total absence of light in the tiny hall. He knows from a plan of the apartment that the bedroom is beyond the closed door on the other side of the living room. The kitchen is directly ahead of him and it is empty. A Post-it note has been stuck on the frame of the door, and he can just make out the scrawl:

CALL TAPLOE RE: M


The yellow paper moves very slightly as, in these first few seconds, he stands quite still, listening for any indication that the Englishman may be awake.

It is only now that he hears the music. Was it playing as he came in? He has been holding the gun in his right hand all this time and his grip now tightens around the butt. Classical music, a piano, very slow and melancholy. The kind of music a man might listen to if he were having trouble getting to sleep. With his heel the Russian pushes the front door until it is resting against the frame. Then, without needing to look back, he feels for the latch with his hand and closes it very slowly. He waits for the lock to engage and moves one step forward toward the door of the living room, the gun now up and level.

If he is awake, so be it. Let him see me coming.

But there is no other noise or movement as he walks into the sitting room, just the music fractionally louder now and the bathroom door ahead of him, leaking light into a narrow passage. Everything in the sitting room is visible because of it and, out of habit, he takes it all in: the two paperback books lying on the carpet; the empty tumbler on a small three-legged antique table; a framed photograph of a young man and woman on their wedding day hanging unevenly nearby. The room of an untidy, chaotic mind, devoid of a woman's touch.

Another two steps and he is across the room, moving as lightly as he can, cheap deck shoes noiseless against the worn carpet. Still he feels no sense of exhilaration, no impending release for his grief: only a specialist's expertise, an absolute focus on the job in hand. Moving silently between the books on the floor, his eyes fix on the space ahead of him: the narrow, well-lit corridor, the bedroom door to his left. On this he trains the gun, stopping now, his mind a spin of instinct and calculation. For years he has imagined killing the Englishman in his bed, watching him cower and writhe in a corner. It has been planned that way. But he is suddenly uncertain of making that last move into the room, of opening the door into a place where his opponent may hold the upper hand.

The decision is made for him. He hears a single heavy footstep, then the sound of a light switch being pressed and the rattle of the bedroom door handle as it drops through forty-five degrees. Instinctively, the Russian takes two steps backward, hurried now, stripped of control. Light flares briefly into the passage and he blinks rapidly as he looks up, the pale face etched with shock.

The intruder had words to say, a speech prepared, but the first shot punctures the left side of his victim's chest, spinning him to the ground. Blood and tissue and bone shower against the walls and floor of the corridor, one color in the pale bathroom light. But he is still conscious, his blue cotton pyjamas blackened and viscous with blood.

In his own language, the Russian says, "Do you know who I am?"

And the Englishman, propped up by a pale thick arm, shakes his head as the color drains from his eyes.

Again, in Russian: "Do you know who I am? Do you know why I have come?"

But he sees that he is passing out: his neck is suddenly loose and falling. In the moments before the second shot the Russian tries quickly to summon a sense of fulfillment, a closure to the act. He looks directly into a dying man's eyes and tries to feel something beyond the basic violence of what he has done.

The effort is hopeless, and as the second bullet rips into the man's chest, the Russian is already turning, experiencing little more than the basic fear of being discovered. He just wants to be out of this place, to be away from London. And then he will go to the grave in Samarkand and tell Mischa what he has done.

CHAPTER 2

"Don't move. Hold it right there."

The girl stopped immediately, her hand on the nape of her neck.

"Now look up at me." Her eyes met his.

"Without twisting your head."

She moved her chin back toward the mattress. "Good," he said. "Is that comfortable?"

"Yes."

"And you're warm enough?"

"Yes, Ben, yes."

He leaned forward, out of sight now. She heard the itch and whisper of the brush as it moved across the canvas. He said, "Sorry, Jenny, I interrupted you."

"That's OK." She coughed and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "You said you were six when it happened? When your father walked out?"

Ben took a long drag on his cigarette and said, "Six, yes."

"And your brother?"

"Mark was eight."

"And you haven't seen him since?"

"No."

Outside on the street, three floors down, a distant child was imitating the sound of a diving airplane.

"Why did he leave?"

When Ben did not answer immediately, Jenny thought that she might have offended him. That could happen sometimes, with sudden intimacy. When a model is lying naked in an artist's studio with only a thin white sheet for company, conversation tends toward the candid.

"My father was offered a position in the Foreign Office, in 1976," he said finally. The voice betrayed a controlled resentment, the glimpse, perhaps, of a quick temper. "The idea of it went to his head. The work meant more to him than his family did. So he took off."

Jenny managed a compassionate smile, although there was nothing in her own experience to compare with the concept of a parent abandoning his own child. The thought appalled her. Ben continued to paint, his face very still and concentrated.

"That must have been awful," she said, just to fill the silence. The remark sounded like a platitude and she regretted it. "I mean, it's difficult to recover from something like that. You must find it so hard to trust anyone."

Ben looked up.

"Well, you have to be careful with that one, don't you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Blaming everything on the past, Jenny. We're the therapy generation. An explanation for every antisocial act in our damaged adolescence. Make a mistake and you can always write it off against a shitty childhood."

She smiled. She liked the way he said things like that, the smile that suddenly cracked across his face.

"Is that what you believe?" she asked.

"Not exactly." He stubbed out the cigarette. He was trying to capture the play of light on her body, the darkening hollows of skin. "It's what my brother thinks."

"Mark?"

Ben nodded. "He's a lot more forgiving than I am. Actually works with my father now. Doesn't see it as a problem at all."

"He works with him?"

"Yeah."

"How did that happen?"

"Freak coincidence." Ben blew hard on the canvas to free it of dust. He didn't feel much like opening up and telling Jenny all about big brother's dream job running a top London nightclub and flying business class around the world. She was a student, just twenty-one, and would only want to know if he could get her into Libra for free or source her some cheap CDs. "Mark and my dad go on business trips together," he said vaguely. "Have dinners, that kind of thing."

"And you don't mind?"

Ben rubbed his neck. "Nothing to do with me."

"Come on." She rolled over and drew her knees up tight against her chest. A very faint tremor of cellulite appeared on her upper thigh. "Yesterday, you told me you guys were close. Hasn't it affected your relationship?"

Ben decided to kill the subject.

"Are you uncomfortable, Jenny?" he asked. "How come you've moved position?"

She sensed his annoyance, but pressed on, using her body as a decoy. With her legs in the air, cycling for balance as she leaned over the bed, she began looking for a cigarette.

"I just need a break," she said. "Come on. Don't be so mysterious. Tell me."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Hidden Man by Charles Cumming. Copyright © 2003 Charles Cumming. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author


CHARLES CUMMING is the author of the first Thomas Kell book, A Foreign Country, as well as the New York Times bestselling thriller The Trinity Six, and others including A Spy by Nature and Typhoon. He lives with his family in London.

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