Television audiences around the world witness in horror the Moscow assassination attempt upon the American and Russian presidents. The captured gunman is revealed to be the son of one of Britain's most infamous nuclear defectors, which brings the shuffling, believe-nothing Charlie Muffin into the investigation.
Within hours, the death of the Russian leader and the diagnosis that the American's president's wife will be maimed brings the pressure on the combined American, Russian and British investigators to a melting point. Only Charlie Muffin refuses to accept the defector's son was the sole shooter and he doesn't endear himself to anyone--including ex-KGB debriefer Natalia Fedova and mother of Muffin's daughter-and must risk his life and his love to prove his case.
From the corridors of power in Russia to the offices of MI5, Charlie must once again challenge higher authorities to bring justice to all. In perhaps his most intense thriller to date, Brian Freemantle once again uses his unique understanding of international espionage and intrigue to remarkable results.
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About the Author
Brian Freemantle is the author of over 30 books, which have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. He lives in England.
BRIAN FREEMANTLE is the author more than thirty books, which have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. These include fifteen previous novels in the Charlie Muffin series. He has been foreign editor and chief foreign correspondent for the London Daily Mail and foreign correspondent for the London Daily Sketch, among others. He lives in England.
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The state visit was crucial for the political future of both leaders, which made maximum public and media exposure as important as the long ago concluded but unannounced nuclear missile defense treaty that was to be its triumphant, reelection assuring climax.
The apparent negotiations had been conducted with the surgical precision befitting the life-saving operation both considered it to be. To establish the impression of nation-protecting intractability, the American secretary of state had very publicly headed the three main delegations to Moscow and received the Russian foreign minister in Washington on a matching number of media-hyped occasions. After each of which they'd made dour-faced statements of insurmountable difficulties, left behind in the other's capital additional negotiators and on their returning flights personally given unattributable diplomatic briefings that success would be a miracle.
The public event preparations were as perfectly orchestrated. The leaked details — even suggested photographs — of what America's fashion-icon First Lady had chosen were balanced by those of the Russian president's equally fashion-conscious and vivacious wife, setting up couture competitions at the Bolshoi, the Tchaikovsky Conservatory and the Moscow Arts Theatre as well as at the intended official state banquets.
All of which were featured some way down the list of security considerations that had consumed the American Secret Service and the Russian Presidential Protection division of the Federal Security Service for as long as but far more actively than the time supposedly spent by treaty negotiators.
Both security groups — initially separately but soon in single, protesting voice — were appalled at the completeness of the intended open exposure.
Their argument that the major part of the arrival ceremony be in the totally-controlled inner courtyard of the Kremlin and not in the open, at the Moscow White House, was impatiently swept aside because of the Kremlin's most recent association with communism, whose reemerging official political party, the Kommumisticheskaya Partiya Rossiiskoi Federatsii, was seriously threatening the president's second term reelection. The symbolism of the White House, against which Boris Yeltsin sent tanks in 1993 to defeat the communist-led opposition of the Congress of Peoples' Deputies, better suited both presidents. It took a week of persistent argument, finally adjudicated by the chiefs of staff of both leaders, to get the arrival of Air Force One switched from Moscow's international Sheremet'yevo airport to a much more easily vetted and security-assured military airfield on the eastern outskirts of the city. There was an even more protracted dispute over the joint insistence that the two men, and their wives, should drive into the city in an open-topped car along a previously publicized route which Muscovites would be encouraged to line to cheer and wave pre-issued national flags.
It took a claimed terrorist bomb explosion in a car park just off the route, staged by the Russian security service and blamed on Chechen separatists, to gain the concession of a bullet-proofed glass bubble over the rear of the vehicle, which had to be changed from the intended Zil to an American-imported Cadillac because no such protective fitment existed for a Russian limousine. To compensate for the reluctant abandonment of open transportation both services acceded to an increase in the number of elevated TV camera positions but were again overruled by the chiefs of staff on their demand that the official cavalcade should drive at the traditional high speed along the government-reserved center lane of the approach roads.
A second officially planted bomb literally backfired when the two presidents decided to show their refusal to be cowed by terrorism — and gain the predictable headlines — by having their procession restricted to forty m.p.h. in the lane closest to the flag-waving crowds once they entered the built-up area. A request by three American Secret Service officers to be released from the Moscow detail was rejected with the warning that the protest gesture would be marked on their records. Twenty-four hours before the American president's arrival the designated route was, however, closed to vehicular traffic and all the drains and culverts checked by explosive-detecting sniffer dogs before all manhole covers were welded into place. By then all political dissidents and separatist group members with checkable police files had been detained in militia custody.
A cloudless, early summer day guaranteed the crowds. Maintaining the pretence of remaining treaty difficulties the American leader, Walter Anandale, declared at the airport arrival ceremony that a breakthrough in the negotiations to completely abandon his country's already suspended National Missile Defense project was only possible at president-top-resident level. His wife was dazzling in pink, with a matching cloche hat. The Russian president's wife was in powder blue, her hair a blond, unruffled curtain to her shoulders on the windless day.
The immediately following car for the journey into Moscow carried three American and three Russian protection officers in constant telephone and radio contact with others lining the route ahead. One of the Russians was permanently patched through to the shadowing helicopters overhead. They left their car while it was still moving to be in position around the Cadillac when it stopped on Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya, despite the mixed, twelve-man detail already cordoning the podium from which the Russian leader was to respond to the American's arrival speech.
The ceremony was choreographed as perfectly as everything else. The two women left the limousine ahead of their husbands, to put them slightly at the rear when the two men turned to face the hedge of microphones and television cameras, some on their level and others stilted high above on elevated staging.
The sound of the first shot was only discernible from the sound-amplified replays and several commentators later remarked they were momentarily bewildered by the abrupt red splashes on the pink and blue suits of the First Ladies before seeing the Russian leader clutch his chest and realizing the redness was the man's blood.
Charlie Muffin, who was watching the live coverage on America's CNN, said: "Shit!" Natalia had only so far been peripherally involved but his immediate awareness was that it would all change now.
Charlie could never have imagined by how much.
The astonishing footage of the gunman's seizure was to win the CNN cameraman an international award, which confirmed the importance of being in the right place at the right time more than professional expertise: his elevated position was next in line and only seven meters away from the Russian TV gantry from which the shots were fired. All he had to do was swivel his camera forty-five degrees, point it and adjust the zoom.
There were only two wrestling men on the miniscule, swaying platform, one still clutching the telescope-mounted rifle, the other the Russian cameraman restricted by his equipment harness and the headset link to the control scanner unseen far below. The gunman was slim, eyes wild and virtually unfocused, already dishevelled long blond hair further matted by the fight. He wore soiled jeans and a creased, denim workshirt against which bounced, as they fought, a neck-chained identity disc that appeared the same as that around the cameraman's neck. The cameraman was an overweight but muscular man at least ten years older and much shorter. Despite the tussle his wispy remaining hairs stayed cemented in place over a reddish bald head. His face was mottled, too, by the frenzy and both arms were blackly tattooed.
They struggled for the weapon, torn at like a bone between two dogs. Each was yelling, snarling, kicking at the other but the words were lost because the witnessing CNN camera was mute, the commentary — a pointless, even inadequate description of what was obvious on screen — coming from the monitors in the ground-based American scanner. But the shouting would probably have been inaudible anyway beneath the roar of an escort helicopter which abruptly descended to within two meters of the pod, its downdraft threatening to blow both men off their narrow perch. It spun the tripod-mounted Russian camera wildly, smashing it once into its operator hard enough to teeter him against the edge of the guardrail and almost enabled the gunman to reclaim his rifle. The cameraman used his faltering hold to pull himself back to safety but the pummelling rotors tossed them around the platform more than the battle for the gun. At last the cameraman's hair was dislodged; that of the other man was an enclosing mask around his face.
A safety-belted marksman swung out of the helicopter into a practised crouch on to the port strut, his sniper's rifle moving smoothly to his shoulder, and for the briefest moment the brawling men paused, both looking upwards, and for the first time the American commentary made a contribution, reporting that from the Russian helicopter was being amplified an instruction for the two men to separate. The cameraman made as if to do so but immediately snatched for the disputed rifle when the berserk man began turning the barrel towards him. Above, the sniper sighted and abandoned the clear shot, sighted and lifted his rifle again in arm-jerking frustration.
Three men were climbing the gantry by now, the second two with Makarov hand-guns already out, making it difficult for them to pull themselves up the ladder rails. Both paused, trying for the unimpeded shot the sniper couldn't get from above but like the airborne marksman neither was able to distinguish between the locked-together fighters.
It was the first climbing Russian who ended it in what was practically an anti-climax. When his head became level with the pod floor the Russian simply reached up and jerked the younger man's feet from beneath him. For a moment he appeared to be supported entirely by his hold on his rifle. Then he crashed on both knees to the metal floor — his head thrown back, mouth wide, in an unheard cry of agony — finally releasing his hold upon the weapon. At once the leading security officer caught the back of the crumpled man's shirt and hauled him bodily through the gantry fence. For the briefest moment he was suspended, grabbing out for the cameraman then snatching to hold on to the platform edge before falling, arms and legs flailing, the fifteen meters to the ground where he was immediately lost beneath a scrum of other, waiting, security people.
Aware of the uniqueness of his pictures the CNN director had not switched cameras. Now he did, recapping with instant replay from the moment of the first blood splash. Charlie's initial impression was of the American First Lady bending to help the collapsed Russian leader, but she fell away from the man and Charlie realized she, too, had been hit. It was impossible to gauge how badly because everyone on the dais was instantly engulfed by security and the cameras were live here, so it was possible to hear the screams of fear and disorganized, unthinking panic, all the rehearsals for just such an eventuality forgotten, Russians and Americans jostling in total confusion. The one preparation that did operate smoothly was the instant arrival of the waiting-in-readiness ambulances, although their paramedics were delayed stretchering the victims into them by the crush of so obviously failed protection.
The siren-howling, militia-escorted journey to the Pirogov Hospital on Leninskaya Prospekt was this time along the centrally reserved carriageways and was recorded virtually throughout by the specially-installed cameras. An American reporter outside the hospital brought the coverage up to date, although the station kept cutting back to the TV gantry fight.
Few details had so far been made available, the reporter said. It was known that the Russian president, Lev Maksimovich Yudkin, was the most seriously hurt, with two separate wounds to the upper chest. He was currently undergoing surgery. So was America's First Lady, Ruth Anandale. Her injuries were not believed to be life-threatening. Her operation was being conducted by the surgeon and medical staff who routinely travelled with the President on overseas trips, although some Russian doctors and staff were assisting. The reporter understood that two other people had been hurt in the shooting, one an American Secret Service officer.
Charlie stayed until the last minute, flicking between local Moscow channels and the superior coverage of the American network and its fluke-of-positioning scoop, knowing precisely how long it would take him to get to the kindergarten to collect Sasha, to which he'd already agreed with Natalia before the attempted assassination. Their daughter greeted him with a model of a cardboard house puffed with cotton wool to represent snow for which she'd got a red star that reminded Charlie of those that still adorned the Kremlin towers. Sasha said it was a present for her mother but Charlie could share if he wanted. Charlie said he'd like to. He took the backroads to Lesnaya, sure the more direct main roads would still be blocked — maybe even pointlessly sealed off — by militia and Federal Security Service officers frantically pretending to fulfill the role they'd already so badly failed to perform. Don't be a smart ass, he told himself: there but for the grace of God and all that. Professionally able to guess just how much buck-passing and shit-shovelling there'd be, Charlie was caught by the mundane comparison of his meandering home on a school run with a chattering five year old beside him. There was no answering machine message from Natalia when he got to the apartment. CNN was still showing their extraordinary footage. The only update from the Pirogov Hospital reporter was that the American president had arrived and was waiting for his wife to emerge from surgery. It was difficult to see anything of the ground level of the hospital because of the hedge of Secret Servicemen.
It was almost nine o'clock, Sasha long ago bathed and asleep, before Natalia got to the apartment. She was sagged by tiredness and strain. The tone in which she said his name halted his automatically moving towards the waiting bottles, to make her the reviving drink.
"What?" he said, turning back to her.
"The gunman's name is George Bendall," she said, flatly. "His father was Peter Bendall, who defected from Britain nearly thirty years ago."
"Oh fuck!" said Charlie.
The adrenaline-surged panic was over. There were only two other men with the American president in the hurriedly-assigned office which still had the jacket of its normal occupant hanging from the inside door hook. The man's discarded salami sandwiches were in the waste bin. In the outside corridor the Secret Servicemen formed a solid, shoulder-to-shoulder wall.
"She's over the first hurdle," said Wendall North. "That's good."
"She's come through immediate surgery," qualified Anandale, who'd returned from the recovery room minutes before and was still in shirtsleeves after taking off his sterilized gown. "If it doesn't work she'll lose the arm. And there's going to be a lot of shock."
"It'll work," said the chief of staff, locked into empty reassurance.
"It sure as hell better," said Anandale, just as emptily. He was a big man, tall and heavily built. The Texas accent was very pronounced. "We need to get her out of here: back to America. The conditions here are Stone Age."
"What's Max Donnington say?" asked the chief of staff. North had expected the White House surgeon, a commissioned admiral, to come up from the resuscitation room with the president. The navy physician had to be concerned about Ruth Anandale's recovery not to have done so.
"He doesn't want her moved, not even to the embassy. He's bringing in some sterilisation equipment and more staff, to clean up the room that she's in. Liaise with him, Wendall. I want the bestequipped air ambulance brought in, ready the moment it's possible to move her."
James Scamell decided it was time to move the discussion on to practicalities. "I've spoken with the foreign ministry people who've arrived: Boris Petrin himself. It's touch and go whether Yudkin's going to make it."
Anandale was a consummate politician and it only took him seconds to refocus his mind. He nodded at the most obvious inference from the Secretary of State's remark. "Goodbye to a second term reelection for Lev Maksimovich."
"There's temporary provision but not a proper successor in waiting," said Scamell.
"What about the communist party candidate?"
Excerpted from "Kings of Many Castles"
Copyright © 2002 Brian Freemantle.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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