Around the world, the children of the rich are disappearing . . . A chilling thriller starring kidnapping expert Charles Boxer, “a great character” (Kirkus Reviews).
Kidnapping expert Charles Boxer is contemplating retirement. He’s found a measure of contentment, even as a mystery from his own past gnaws at his sense of justice. Meanwhile, his ex-wife, Mercy, balances a complicated personal life with an even more precarious professional one in the woefully under-resourced metropolitan police department. But both are suddenly pulled back into action when six children of ultrawealthy families vanishfamilies from India, China, Russia, Australia, Germany, and the United Statestaken by a ruthlessly efficient organization with a single astonishing demand.
Trapped, off-balance, and with little left to lose, they plunge into a cauldron of warring intelligence agencies, morally destitute billionaires, and human traffickers, coming finally to a fateful reckoning that will forever change themin this smart, suspenseful thriller by a Gold Dagger and Gumshoe Award–winning author.
“A great character whose emotional trials are exciting to follow.” Kirkus Reviews
|Publisher:||Europa Editions, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
Robert Wilson has lived and worked around the world and now divides his time between the UK and Portugal. He's written many acclaimed crime novels including the CWA Gold Dagger Award-winning A Small Death in Lisbon and the Falcon series, which was recently adapted for television. His first novel featuring Charlie Boxer, Captital Punishment, was shortlisted for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award.
Read an Excerpt
00.30, 15 January 2014
Westbourne Park Road, Notting Hill, London W2
Rakesh Sarkar came off the Westway driving his twenty-first-birthday present from his father through the back streets of Bayswater as if he was his grandmother. The spliff he'd smoked was giving him eye-crinkling giggles at the absurd image of a bespectacled little old Indian lady hunched over the steering wheel of a Porsche 911 Carrera. It had taken all his self-control not to open up the throttle on the raised dual carriageway, with London stretched out glittering at his feet while Renault Clios and Opel Corsas overtook him on the inside.
The reason for this reluctant, law-abiding drive back to his flat in Arundel Gardens was that he'd been out with relatives at a restaurant and drunk wine before going to his English girlfriend's flat in Shoreditch to knock back shots of Glenmorangie, smoke a joint and have dispiritingly rapid sex. The following morning he had a five A.M. call to be at his commodities trading desk at Trafigura Limited on Portman Street. He'd been late once before and the only reason they'd allowed him to continue his internship was because his father, Uttam Sarkar, was the owner of India's largest commodities conglomerate, the Amit Sarkar Group.
The alcohol and drugs meant that the Porsche had to be driven at a speed so slow it was almost stalling with outrage. So he was infuriated when an unmarked white car overtook him and switched on blue flashing lights above the rear bumper. The giggles vanished as he pulled into the kerb, lowered the window and hyperventilated the damp night air.
Two police officers got out holding up hands against the headlights and made a sign that he should turn off his engine. One of them approached the driver's side. The other walked slowly around the car. Sarkar coughed, stuck his head out of the window, sucked in more cold air.
'Anything the matter, officer?' he said.
'Little bit erratic there, sir,' said the policeman.
'Erratic!' said Sarkar, instantly maddened. 'What do you mean, erratic? I've never been so careful in my life.'
The officer came down to his level, sniffed.
'Never been so careful in your life?' he said. 'Can I ask you if that's because you've been drinking, sir?' 'No, I haven't, officer. I don't drink and drive. Absolutely not.'
'There's a smell of alcohol on your breath, sir,' said the officer. 'Are you sure you haven't been drinking? You did cross the central road markings on several occasions, and we associate that with driving under the influence.'
'I can assure you I have had nothing to drink,' said Sarkar, heart thumping in his throat.
'Just look this way, sir,' said the officer, shining a flashlight into his eyes.
Sarkar blinked, felt foolish.
'Your pupils are dilated, sir,' said the officer.
'Perhaps you've been using drugs and that's what's made your driving even more erratic than if —'
'It wasn't erratic. I was driving at the ... below the speed limit. If I crossed the central line, it was only because there were parked cars on either side. We are in London, you know.'
'We do know that, sir. We're with the Metropolitan Police,' said the officer. 'I'm going to have to ask you to step out of the car and take a breathalyser test, sir.'
'What the fuck ...'
'Just try and keep the language and your temper under control, sir. We're only doing our job. Can't have people driving around under the influence, can we? End up killing people, then where would you be?' 'Look,' said Sarkar, desperate, 'what's it going to take?'
'It'll only take a few minutes, sir ... if you're clean.'
'You know what I mean, officer.'
'Do I?' said the officer, frowning. 'Sergeant, just come over here, please.'
The other policeman joined him. Two hard faces peering in at the driver's window.
'You've got our full attention now, sir. Just say what it was you wanted to know. What's it going to ...?'
'I asked you "What's it going to take?"' said Sarkar.
'And I said a few minutes if you're clean, and you replied ...'
'I replied: "You know what I mean, officer." And I think you do.'
'Do I understand that correctly, Sergeant?'
The two officers looked at each other, eyes narrowed.
'I think he's offering you a bribe, sir.'
'How much are you willing to offer ... as a bribe?'
'A grand, eh?' said the policeman. 'One thousand pounds.'
'Make it two. One each,' said Sarkar.
'Do you have this money on you, sir?'
'So how's that going to work?'
'I have it at home. In a safe.'
'I think the best thing for you to do is go with the sergeant in the car in front, and I'll follow you home in your little motor. How's that? Best be safe if you're inebriated.'
Sarkar got out of the car, handed over his keys, followed the sergeant to the unmarked police car and got in.
A policewoman was sitting in the back, blonde hair tied up in a bun. As he sat down, closing the door, she leaned towards him and he felt a sharp prick in his left buttock. He yelped with shock.
'What the fuck was that?'
'Sorry, sir?' said the policewoman.
The sergeant got into the driver's seat, pressed the central locking button.
'I felt something sharp go into my backside,' said Sarkar.
'Don't know what you're talking about,' said the policewoman. 'Now would you mind breathing into this?'
'Yes I bloody would,' said Sarkar. 'You stabbed me with something.'
'Stabbed you?' said the policewoman, shocked, showing him her empty hands. 'Let's just wipe the seat. We get all sorts in here, you know. Drinkers, drug users. They sometimes drop their syringes.'
'Are you telling me I might have sat on a drug user's syringe?'
'Well it's never happened before, but you're complaining so I think it's worth checking.'
'I want to get out of this car,' said Sarkar, ripping at the door lever.
'Just keep calm and breathe into this, and we'll check if your alcohol level —'
'I AM NOT going to be CALM!' roared Sarkar. 'I am NOT going to be breathing into your bloody breathalyser. I might have picked up HIV from a syringe rolling around in your car.'
'We're not bothering with that,' said the sergeant. 'We've come to an agreement ... apparently.'
'Oh really, Sergeant?' said the policewoman, ignoring the raving Sarkar. 'What sort of an agreement?'
'He's offered us two grand,' said the sergeant.
The Porsche 911 Carrera roared past them, disappeared into the night.
'Where the fuck is he going?' said Sarkar, staring out the window, digging his iPhone from his pocket. 'I thought he was supposed to be following us, not tearing off down the street ... I'm calling my lawyer. There's going to be no two grand now.'
'Just tell us where to go, will you, sir?' said the sergeant.
'The nearest bloody police station,' said Sarkar. 'I'm not putting up with this. That fucker's run off with my car.'
The policeman checked the back seat in the rearview, raised an eyebrow at the policewoman, who slipped off her shoe, leaned back, raised her foot and kicked Sarkar so hard in the side of the face that his head ricocheted off the window.
Silence. The policewoman took the iPhone from Sarkar's slack hands.
'I do hate it when they get shouty,' she said.
'I thought you'd given him enough trank to take an elephant down.'
'We're not in the movies, you know.'
Klaus Weber, chauffeur to the Deal-O supermarket heir Hans Pfeiffer, was sitting in the reclining driver's seat of an S65 Mercedes listening to Mahler's Symphony No. 5 played by the World Orchestra for Peace, conducted by Valery Gergiev. He had grown to like classical music driving Hans Pfeiffer around Europe. Pfeiffer lived in Switzerland and didn't like flying; only did it if absolutely necessary. He also didn't like talking very much, and certainly not to people like Weber, with whom he struggled to find anything in common, so there was plenty of time for listening to music.
'How's it going, Klaus?' said Jack, who'd just drifted over from his limousine, peaked chauffeur's cap in hand. 'Hey, like the music.'
'Alles gut,' said Weber, leaning across the seat. 'Mahler.'
Despite this being his third consecutive night outside Chinawhite, all the other chauffeurs had ignored Weber. He'd walked past their cars smoking a cigarette but none of them had lowered their windows. Like Jack, they were mostly carrying celebrities around from club to club and rarely spent more than an hour at any one location. Jack was the only one who'd been friendly.
'Fancy a coffee, Klaus?'
'Sure, but where at this time of night?'
'Tinseltown, Great Portland Street. Just round the corner. Two minutes' walk. Stays open till one o'clock.'
Weber checked his watch, weighed it up.
'O.K., just a coffee.'
'They do food as well. Nachos. Burgers. Don't turn your nose up at it.'
'Don't worry, mate. Let's go.'
Weber was one of six drivers on the payroll. But tonight he wasn't waiting for Hans Pfeiffer. This time he was sitting up the road from one of the fanciest nightclubs in London, hanging on the whim of Pfeiffer's nineteen-year-old daughter, Karla. When she'd finally had enough, she would text him to pick her up. He would ease down to Winsley Street, open the door at Chinawhite's and she'd hop in off her Jimmy Choos to be taken back to the Pfeiffers' Chelsea town house.
Weber's precisely engineered German brain reckoned he wasn't going to hear from Karla until at least two o'clock, as tonight she was in the company of Wú Gao, the very beautiful son of the Chinese real-estate heiress Wú Dao-ming. This was the couple's third evening together at Chinawhite, and each night had been about an hour longer than the last.
'So how's it been with Herr Pfeiffer in London these last few days?' asked Jack.
'Oh, you know, the same thing every day,' said Weber, putting on his Hugo Boss uniform raincoat but not the peaked cap. 'We drive around. Look at property. They talk. I don't hear anything. I just drive the car.'
The rear passenger seats of the Mercedes were completely glassed in and hermetically sealed. Weber never heard a word of any of the discussions between Pfeiffer and Wú Dao-ming. He'd been driving them around London looking at potential development sites for luxury apartments, for which there was a huge demand in China. Pfeiffer already had more than forty Deal-O supermarkets around the capital and understood the investment opportunities, while Wú Dao-ming had the clients. Communication with Weber was via an intercom and consisted of the word 'Stop' and not much else. He was careful not to mention Wú Dao-ming to Jack. Pfeiffer was very strict about commercial security. He didn't want anybody knowing who he was talking to.
Karla and Wú Gao hadn't known each other for long but they got on. They spoke in English, which was their only common language. Wú Gao was in the first year of an economics degree at the LSE and it was he who'd proposed they go to Chinawhite. Karla was in her first year at Central St. Martin's College of Art and Design. Wú Gao was mad about art. His mother had an extensive collection of Chinese artists. Karla was mad about Wú Gao.
'You know who I'm waiting for tonight?' said Jack.
'Somebody different to last night?'
'I don't guess very well,' said Weber, stiffly.
'Scarlett Johansson,' said Jack. 'She's over here to see Jonathan Glazer, you know, the director of Under the Skin.'
Weber looked blank. Jack shrugged, and as they walked past the Market Place Bar he took Weber's arm and pulled him down a narrow alleyway, a cut-through to Margaret Street.
'Quicker this way,' he said. 'You like German movie directors?'
'I prefer football.'
'Don't tell me ... Bayern Munich.'
'How did you know?'
'It's written all over you, Klaus. Arjen Robben, Franck Ribéry, Thomas Müller. Top bloody notch.'
As they walked past Ryman, a tightly gloved hand flashed out of the shadows and hit Weber hard on the side of the neck. He stumbled, fell on to all fours and found himself staring into the grey slabs and joins of the paving stones, his vision dark-edged and pulsing.
The man who'd chopped him across the carotid stepped out of the dark and stuck a hypodermic into his left buttock, ramming the plunger home. He straddled Weber, who'd collapsed on to his elbows, grabbed him around the chest and lifted him to his feet. Jack found the car keys in his trouser pocket, along with a wallet. They stripped off the Hugo Boss coat, which Jack put on, and removed his mobile phone from the inside pocket, checked it. A car pulled up on Margaret Street, reversed on to the pavement as far as the single post in the middle of the alleyway. The boot sprang open.
They walked Weber, toes trailing, to the car, folded him in and shut the lid. The gloved man handed Jack a small canister before getting into the passenger seat. Jack walked back down the alleyway and returned to Weber's Mercedes. He opened the rear door, stripped off a piece of tape from the canister and stuck it below the seat. He got behind the wheel, turned on the Mahler and put Weber's mobile phone on the armrest. Waited.
At 01.45 Jack received a text from Karla telling him she was ready. He put on the driver's cap and rolled down to Chinawhite, where she was waiting with Wú Gao. He pulled up, started to get out of the car. Karla told him not to bother and they climbed into the back.
Jack pulled away heading west. He took out his own mobile phone and pressed the dial button, which triggered the canister to release nitrous oxide into the passenger area. Within a minute the couple started giggling, heads thrown back. They were holding hands and their faces rolled closer to each other. Jack checked them in the rear-view, saw the euphoria sweeping over them. Their lips touched and parted, their tongues flickered, but they were laughing too much to sustain a kiss for very long.
Jack wheeled the Mercedes round, heading east. His passengers were oblivious. He rounded Russell Square, aiming for a small side street off the Gray's Inn Road where there was high-walled off-street parking by a small warehouse. He pulled in, unlocked the rear passenger doors. Two men opened them from the outside. Karla and Wú Gao turned to see the masked men reaching in. They nearly smiled before their faces were engulfed by chloroformed rags. The masked men got in the back, closed the doors. Jack pulled out on to the Gray's Inn Road.
'Call this number,' said Siena.
'Who do I talk to?' asked Jerry.
'Dunno. Someone. They'll have stuff. We need more stuff.'
'You're already fucked up, Si.'
'Get outta here,' said Siena. 'I haven't even started.'
The music thumped in the walls, fizzing up from the basement through the floors. They were sitting in a bare room at the top of a house on Leonard Street in Hackney. Lighting came from the orange street lamps below through uncurtained sash windows. Siena had her knees up to her chin. Jerry was lying at her feet. He rolled over and noticed that she wasn't wearing any knickers.
'What happened to your pants, Si?' he asked.
'Don't be a perv, Jerry.'
'Couldn't help it. I'm just lying here and —'
'I don't know,' she said, dismissing it, waving him off. 'I must have fucked somebody. Can't remember. Call the number. We need something.'
The door opened. A head of long blond hair looked round, saw them.
'Hi,' he said.
'Mind if I time out in here?'
The music was cartwheeling up the stairs behind him.
'Just need some space is all.'
Siena and Jerry looked up, said nothing.
'Got some weed if that helps?'
'We done weed,' said Jerry.
'All right, I got some pills. Different colours.'
'We done Smarties too,' said Siena.
'Got some lines of blow, but it don't look like you got the ... surfaces for that.'
'We can make surfaces for that,' said Siena, suddenly enthusiastic, nudging Jerry with her foot.
'This stuff 's very pure, got to be careful with it,' said the blond guy. 'Don't want to have to peel you off the ceiling at six in the morning.'
'Like how pure?' asked Siena.
'You Aussies?' asked the blond guy. 'I'm just hearing a little twang there.'
'She's Aussie,' said Jerry. 'I'm from Dalston.'
'Go get some glass, Jerry. We need surfaces like the man said. What's your name?'
'Joe,' said the blond guy.
'I'm Siena. He's Jerry,' she said.
Jerry got up, brushed past Joe and left the room.
Joe squatted down opposite Siena. He was young and fit. His blond hair was central-parted. He tucked it behind his ears, stroked his goatee.
'So how come you got such pure blow?' asked Siena.
'I have friends,' said Joe. 'My weed you turned down. That's not just any old weed. My tabs're not just any old tabs.'
'What's so special about your weed?'
'It's called AK-47. Grow it myself. Maybe not quite up there with Super Silver Haze but it's close. The seeds are flown in from California.'
'And the tabs?'
'I got me a guy with access to a university lab. He does things like isolate the powerhouse drug from kratom. You know kratom?'(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Stealing People"
Copyright © 2015 Robert Wilson.
Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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