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About the Author
Brian Freemantle (b. 1936) is one of Britain’s most acclaimed authors of spy fiction. His novels have sold over ten million copies worldwide. Born in Southampton, Freemantle entered his career as a journalist, and began writing espionage thrillers in the late 1960s. Charlie M (1977) introduced the world to Charlie Muffin and won Freemantle international success. He would go on to publish fourteen titles in the series. Freemantle has written dozens of other novels, including two about Sebastian Holmes, an illegitimate son of Sherlock Holmes, and the Cowley and Danilov series, about a Russian policeman and an American FBI agent who work together to combat organized crime in the post–Cold War world. Freemantle lives and works in Winchester, England.
Read an Excerpt
By Brian Freemantle
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Innslodge Publication Ltd
All rights reserved.
During the flight from Moscow, the Ilyushin 11-76T had encountered unexpected head winds and so it was thirty minutes behind schedule when it landed at Amsterdam's Schipol airport. It was directed at once by airport control to the freight section, where diplomats from the Soviet embassy were already waiting.
Dutch intelligence had been advised earlier of the intended arrival from the filed flight plan, and so identification of the aircraft was the second message they received that day. A computer check upon that identification disclosed the NATO interest. A normal information request had been registered with all allied intelligence services from the moment of the Ilyushin's first appearance at the Paris Air Show in 1971. A priority designation and the codename Candid had come later, when it was learned that as well as being in commercial service with Aeroflot, the aircraft had become the standard transport vehicle for the Soviet armed forces, with more than a hundred attached to front-line squadrons.
From the Paris exhibition, the external configurations and equipment were well established, both from visual examination and from extensive photographing. The NATO interest was concentrated entirely upon cockpit modifications and particularly on the range and type of radar fitments.
An intelligence team reached the airport within an hour of touchdown and almost immediately resigned themselves to failure. The aircraft and its cargo were protected by absolute diplomatic clearance. In fact, the degree to which the embassy personnel were invoking their diplomatic status was intriguing to those who watched. The only Dutch being permitted anywhere near the aircraft were the crew of the fuel bowser. Otherwise, everything was being handled by Russians, even the aircraft cleaning and cargo loading.
Aware that they were duplicating information already available but unable to think of anything more constructive, the intelligence men photographed the plane extensively, using long-range lenses. They photographed the cargo pallets as well, accepting as they did so that the effort was probably just as pointless; the wooden crates were quite anonymous and could have contained anything. From the effort involved in lifting them, whatever it was appeared heavy.
The loading took two hours. When it was completed, the Russians who had done the labouring work left in the two lorries and an escort car, leaving only a small group of senior diplomats. They stood by their cars, watching the Ilyushin taxi towards the departure runway. By 5 pm there was a build-up of traffic. The Ilyushin was allocated position ten in the take-off queue, which was stationary to permit the landing of a backlog of passenger aircraft. Through binoculars, the intelligence team watched the growing impatience of the embassy staff. At 5-30 pm there appeared to be a huddled conference. They entered their cars, waited a further ten minutes and then, in a regimented line, looped the perimeter road to join the main highway back to the embassy in Andries Bickerweg Street.
It was 6-15 pm before the Ilyushin was directed for take-off and by that time the four Soloviev D-30 turbofan engines, individually mounted in underwing pods, had been running for over an hour. Matching the earlier impatience of his embassy colleagues, the pilot over-revved them, causing the engines to overheat. The aircraft lifted with a take-off speed of just over 114 knots and was 100 feet in the air when two of the fan blades in the bypass section of the outer port engine sheared through metal fatigue. The blocked engine shuddered violently, vibrating the entire aircraft and then the pod snapped right away from the wing. For what appeared a long time but was, in fact, barely seconds, the huge transporter hung in the air. Then it dipped to starboard and ploughed sideways into a marsh field a mile from the airport.
The intelligence teams got to the crash scene at the same time as the ambulance and fire services. The navigator, who was housed in the glazed nose section directly below the flight deck, was killed instantly. The pilot lost an arm and was deeply unconscious and it was not until the post-mortem examination that the co-pilot's fatal internal intestinal rupture was discovered.
Despite the extensive damage to the cockpit, the intelligence men were able to expose four rolls of film, recording all the fitments and establishing a radar installation far more sophisticated than that imagined by NATO electronics experts. They had already been warned by radio of the hastily approaching embassy personnel when they turned to the cargo. They opened eight cases at random, using crowbars clamped to the side of the hold, and knowing the damage could be explained by the crash.
'Christ!' exclaimed the section head, going from box to box and staring down at the dull reflection of the gold that lay there. From the standardised ingot weights assessed against the number of crates carried, it took them three days to calculate the total value at £150,000,000. And to identify, from the assay marks which remained, the predominant source as the Witwatersrand mines of South African Grain, Ore and Mineral Incorporated.
Another brick breaking loose from another dam.CHAPTER 2
The knock was hesitant, but not as timid as he had expected. As if in confirmation of his thoughts, she rapped again, louder this time. Marius Metzinger did not respond at once, wanting every advantage, no matter how miniscule. He allowed a third summons before he moved, not just opening the door but pulling it wide apart and confronting her suddenly. The only reaction from Ann Talbot was a slight widening of the eyes; she didn't start back, as he thought she might.
'I was worried I might have mistaken the time, when you didn't reply,' she said. Her voice was properly respectful, but only just. Metzinger decided she was very sure of herself. The awareness pleased him, even though he had already been fairly confident of the sort of woman she was from the dossier that had taken enquiry agents almost a year to assemble. He was glad the opportunity to utilise the information had occurred.
'No,' he said. 'You didn't mistake the time.' He stood back for her to enter the suite, the best at Claridge's. Metzinger was a large, barrel-bellied man aware of his size and of his ability to overpower people. But as she passed, Ann Talbot didn't seem overawed either by him or by their venue.
'Sit there,' he said, indicating a chair positioned near the desk which had been specially installed for Metzinger's stay in London. He was a man who enjoyed his wealth and privilege and it was obvious. As well as the desk, there was a stock market tape machine near the window and the cords of additional telephones ribboned messily across the carpet.
Ann Talbot did as she was instructed, pulling a large briefcase close to her, as if in expectation of some work. She was a ripe bodied, full-featured woman. Her suit was severe but cleverly cut to show the heaviness of her breasts, and Metzinger decided the way she had of nipping her bottom lip between whitely even teeth was not nervousness but a discreetly cultivated mannerism, to make her appear provocative. Perhaps it was going to be easier than even he imagined. As he watched, she took heavily rimmed spectacles from her briefcase and put them on, reinforcing the impression that she was expecting the meeting to be on a business level. At the same time she patted into place the thick black hair strained back into a bun at the nape of her neck.
Metzinger gestured towards the bar. 'Would you like a drink?'
'No thank you.'
'Were you surprised at my asking you to come here, instead of our meeting at the office?'
'Yes,' she said after a pause, catching her bottom lip between her teeth.
'What did you tell Richard Jenkins?' The curtness of the question concealed Metzinger's apprehension at what he was setting out to achieve. It wouldn't have mattered, had Jenkins simply been the managing director of their United Kingdom division. But he was one of the founder directors of South African Grain, Ore and Mineral Incorporated, with a seat on the SAGOMI parent board in Pretoria. And he'd been one of the most vigorous opponents, the last time Metzinger had attempted to upset the English control of the combine.
'Just that you'd asked me to call by,' said Ann.
'Was he curious?'
'I don't know.'
According to the enquiry agents, Jenkins' affair with his personal assistant had ended a year earlier, before her present involvement with James Collington, but Metzinger supposed there could still be some lingering jealousy. Fleetingly he was amused at the thought of Jenkins imagining that he might become sexually involved with her.
'What about your curiosity?' he said.
'There's obviously a good enough reason,' she said. 'It's not really for me to question, is it?'
Instead of replying, Metzinger moved past towards a window overlooking the streets far below. It was one of those muddily grey November afternoons that he hated in England, not yet four but already necessary for cars to use their lights, an opaque mist clouding out the shapes of the stores in Oxford Street. He looked forward to getting back to the warmth of South Africa. Metzinger turned, the movement as abrupt as his opening of the door.
'For the past seven months,' he announced, 'you have been involved in an affair with my son-in-law: you've practically set up home together, at Princes Gate.' Metzinger had rehearsed the attack for maximum effect, wanting to steamroller her into a collapse. He strode back into the room, indicating the manilla folders on a low table close to where she was sitting. 'I have documentary evidence,' he said. 'Photographs, statements, everything.'
Metzinger gazed at the woman intently, waiting for the reaction. She used the spectacles for her escape, slowly removing them, replacing them in their case and then just as painstakingly putting that into her briefcase, all the while keeping her face away from him. When she did look up, she was quite controlled. 'Yes,' she said, in simple admission.
The reaction momentarily off-balanced Metzinger. He had expected a denial, maybe even tears. He decided to maintain the pressure: 'And before that, you were sleeping with Richard Jenkins.'
Ann looked at the assembled evidence. 'You've gone to a lot of trouble.'
'You'd be surprised how much,' said Metzinger honestly.
She continued to look at the folders. 'It makes me seem like a tart,' she said.
'Yes,' agreed Metzinger. 'It does.'
She moved to snap back at him, her face defiantly hard, then apparently changed her mind. Instead she gestured around the suite. 'Now I know why it had to be here.'
Not yet you don't, thought Metzinger. 'At the moment my daughter and Collington are only separated,' he said. 'What I've assembled here guarantees her divorce. And considerable embarrassment for you.'
'Divorces aren't publicised, not any more,' she said.
Metzinger laughed at her. 'Collington is a well-known man. With the influence I've got, I could get the publicity, even without the divorce action. And when it happened, you'd have to leave the company: he might be chairman, but he could never retain you on the staff if there were a scandal. South Africans are very moral people: the shareholders wouldn't have it. So you'd lose £15,000 a year as well as your reputation.'
'There's one thing you've overlooked,' said the woman.
'What if James wanted the divorce? What if he wanted to marry me?'
Metzinger moved away from her, going back to the window. It was completely dark now; the mist had thickened into a fog. He had expected it to take longer, but her question obviated the need to protract it. 'I suppose you think you know Collington well?' he said, not looking at her.
He heard her snigger, imagining a naïvety in the question. 'I should, shouldn't I?'
Metzinger turned to face her. 'Then how do you think he'd react to knowing that while he's in South Africa, which he is most of the time, you average three nights a week with a rather unsuccessful stockbroker named Peter Brading, whose child you had aborted seven months ago in a Harley Street clinic?'
The barrier fell away, for a few moments. She blinked against the tears and her shoulders sagged. The recovery was equally quick, her attitude moving from bewilderment to outrage. 'Who the hell do you think you are!' she erupted. 'You're the deputy chairman of the company I work for, nothing more. I don't have to sit and take crap from you.'
Metzinger regarded her expressionlessly. 'Yes you do,' he said. He spoke quietly, conversationally almost, and at first the threat did not register with her.
'What do you want?' she said warily.
'Co-operation,' said Metzinger.
'About Collington. And Jenkins, if it's appropriate.'
'You want me to spy for you!'
'I suppose that's what it amounts to.'
'No, it's not.'
Then it's blackmail.'
'All I'm asking for is information from an employee of my company,' qualified Metzinger. 'In return for which I'm prepared to do nothing to jeopardise your well-paid job or whatever you get up to here in London with Collington.'
She hesitated and Metzinger pushed the folders across the table towards her. 'These are copies,' he said. 'I'd like you to take them and read them tonight. To get some idea of how messy everything could become.'
The hesitation continued for a little longer and then she reached out, picking up the enquiry agents' reports and fitting them into her briefcase. As she re-fastened it she gave an abrupt, sneering laugh and said, 'When this began I actually thought you had some genuine concern for your daughter and Collington.'
The suggestion seemed to surprise Metzinger. 'I am concerned for Hannah,' he said. 'About Collington, I feel entirely different.'
Metzinger did not drink, so he shook his head against the steward's invitation for a departure aperitif. He unfastened his safety belt, gazing down at the receding amber lights of London airport and reflecting on the visit. Ann Talbot had surprised him. He had only previously come across her as an efficient assistant in a multi-national business environment and he was curious at the attraction she had for Collington. And not just Collington, he remembered; Jenkins, too. Metzinger was not a man who categorised women in whom he had little interest, but she had appeared to him an obvious type, despite the attempted protection of formal suits, heavy glasses and pulled-back hair. The complete opposite, in fact, to the natural sophistication of Hannah. Perhaps it was the difference between them that Collington found appealing. Metzinger sighed, dismissing the thought. Whatever the reason, it hardly mattered; Hannah's marriage to Collington was over, thank God. Just as his supremacy in SAGOMI was to be over. Within a year, judged Metzinger; with luck, maybe even less. And then the company would be under Afrikaner control.
Metzinger leaned back against the headrest, closing his eyes. There was a fitting irony that he was returning to South Africa for the funeral of the man who'd beaten him the last time he'd attempted to gain control, but whose death had provided him with a second chance. He'd taken more precautions on this occasion than he had on the last, even resorting to sexual pressure, which he found distasteful. But it was necessary to win.
Obediently Metzinger responded to the seatbelt announcement, securing himself for the Amsterdam landing. On its final approach, the aircraft passed over the skeletal wreckage of the Soviet transporter.
It was to be several days before Metzinger learned that most of its gold cargo had come from his company's mines. And even longer before he reached the decision to use this information as a way of removing Collington completely from the board, to achieve an absolute victory.
Excerpted from Gold by Brian Freemantle. Copyright © 1981 Innslodge Publication Ltd. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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