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In 1992, after being fired from a top-secret nuclear facility, a top KGB man buried a dirty bomb. Sixteen years later he has found a buyer for it. Traveling with the buyer is an undercover policeman, working for MI6. But as their shadowy journey begins, it becomes clear to a top psychiatrist that their man may be suffering from Stockholm syndrome and the whole operation is very likely to be thrown into jeopardy. Displaying a fast-paced narrative and an in-depth knowledge of international politics, Timebomb is a racing thriller to keep you reading late into the night.
“Seymour shifts focus among his large cast with a nimbleness that heightens suspense, sustains interest and creates a rooter’s sympathy for (or at least an understanding of) even the most violent characters . . . To the author’s aesthetic credit, Timebomb ticks to a satisfying if ambiguous conclusion.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Seymour, who is classed with espionage luminaries like Ambler and le Carré, has crafted a convoluted plot and a host of complex and exquisitely tormented characters, but it’s his focus on human frailty that makes Timebomb a winner.” —Booklist
“Intricately crafted and clocklike in its controlled release of psychological and geopolitical tension.” —Kirkus Reviews
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9 April 2008
He had been embedded in the family since the start of the year. Jonathan Carrick waited at the front door, listened as the children's mother chided them for being late and not hurrying. He heard the scolding and could not help himself. He smiled. Then the clatter of feet on the landing above him, and their mother was leading them down the wide staircase and past two paintings, sixteenth-century Italian, more suitable for hanging in a gallery. She grimaced at him. 'I think, Johnny, that finally we're ready. At last ...'
'I'm sure we'll make up time, Mrs Goldmann. Won't be a problem.' It was a soft lie, not an important one. The traffic would be building on the streets between the house in Knightsbridge and the school in Kensington that specialized in providing an education to 'international' children from families of great wealth. For Jonathan Carrick, every waking moment of his life was governed by deceit, and each time he spoke, he had to consider whether he risked exposing it. He grinned. 'No, they'll be there for Assembly – I promise, Mrs Goldmann.'
The housekeeper emerged from the door at the back of the hall, the route to the kitchen, holding two plastic lunchboxes containing fruit and sandwiches. It was more of the ritual of the morning departure. The children would take the boxes with them to school, would eat the lunch the school provided, and the boxes would come back in the afternoon, unopened. The sandwiches and fruit would be eaten in the kitchen by Carrick, or Rawlings, who had been his entry point to the family, by Grigori or Viktor.
She called again. 'Please, loved ones, hurry.'
Selma and Peter cascaded down the stairs. The girl was nine and the boy was six. Cheerful and happy, noisy and loved. The children greeted him: 'Good morning, Mr Carrick ... Hi, Johnny ...' It was not right that he should show familiarity in front of their mother, so he assumed a frown of mock-severity, muttered about the time and gazed at his watch. His reaction won shrieks of laughter from the girl and giggles from the boy.
He had the car keys in his hand and stood by the heavy door. Now Grigori had slouched out of the kitchen area, skirted the children, their mother and the housekeeper and come to stand beside Carrick. Their eyes met, a formality of communication. He had little time for the Russian bodyguard, and the bodyguard scarcely hid his dislike for this intruder into the household. Grigori nodded sharply to him. They did not have to discuss the procedures. After three months they were well rehearsed. Carrick's fingertips hit the keypad, unlocked the door, closing down the alarm, then opened it. It was well oiled but heavy, having a steel plate covering its back.
Grigori clattered down the steps, his eyes raking the street, each car and van. Then he waved, a small, economical gesture. Carrick came next, going awkwardly on the steps. The limp was accentuated. The big Mercedes was parked across the pavement. Carrick went to it, flashed the key, slid into the driver's seat, gunned the engine, then leaned back and opened the rear near- side door. Now the children spilled after him and dived in. As their belts clicked, as the door was slammed shut, he pulled away from the kerb.
He looked back a last time. Mrs Goldmann, Esther, was at the top of the steps and waving, then blowing kisses. If it had interested Carrick, he would have said that she was a good- looking woman, with something slightly feral about her thinness. The way her collarbones and cheekbones protruded from the skin was attractive, as was the blonde hair that the morning sunlight caught. She was dressed quietly, blouse, skirt, a knotted scarf at her throat ... He thought her as dangerous to his safety as any other adult in the household.
Each morning he drove the children of Josef and Esther Goldmann to the international school. And each afternoon he brought them home. Between the trips to and from the school, he sometimes escorted Mrs Goldmann to an exhibition of furniture or art, to a reception for a charity she supported, to a lunch appointment. After school, sometimes, he took her to a cocktail party, to the theatre or a concert. He would have described her as discreetly prominent in the community of newly rich Russian citizens making their home in the British capital, would also have said she was intelligent and sharp-witted, much more to her husband than a social decoration. He could not have said how much longer he would continue working for the family, maybe weeks but not months. He drove carefully, not fast.
The truth was that high expectations had not been fulfilled; he was inside the family's home, but outside the kernel of the family's existence. He did not know where Josef Goldmann, or Viktor, or indeed Simon Rawlings were that morning. Behind him, the kids were quiet, stamping their small, pudgy fingers on the controls of their GameBoys. Josef Goldmann, Viktor and Simon Rawlings had left the house before Carrick had arrived for the start of his day. It was not that he could be criticized for not knowing where they had gone, but there would be disappointment that an operation involving resources and expenditure was proving much less than fruitful.
Often he looked in the rear-view mirror. He did not know whether a tail was on him, if back-up was close. His employment was to prevent the kidnapping of the kids – they were a worthwhile target, had to be, with a father worth more than a hundred million in sterling. The Mercedes sat low on its tyres because of the armour plating on the doors and the reinforced glass, and he carried an extendable baton with an aerosol can of pepper spray in his suit jacket ... He was so damned alone, but that was the nature of his work.
Near to the school, he joined a queue of top-of-the-range people-carriers, sports utilities and saloons with privacy windows. He did not let the kids out and on to the pavement short of the school gate, but edged forward till he was level with it and within sight of the school's own security staff. He was not a child-minder, a chauffeur or a door-opener. Jonathan Carrick, Johnny to all who knew him half well, was a serving police officer, Level One Undercover, a bright star in the firmament of a small and secretive corner of the Metropolitan Police Service that carried the title of Serious Crime Directorate 10. And the high-value target that was Josef Goldmann still eluded him.
He braked and loosed the lock on the rear door, near side. 'OK, guys. Have a good day.'
'And you, Johnny ... You have a good day, too, Johnny.'
He grimaced. 'And do your work. You work hard.'
One droll answer. 'Of course, Johnny, what else?' And one query: 'Will you be picking us up, Johnny?'
'Yes, lucky me.' He gave an exaggerated wink, and they were gone. As ever, the little beggars didn't bother to close the door behind them, so he had to lean back and do it himself. It would be him who picked them up because he wasn't yet deep enough into the family. To have been deep, to have made the operation worthwhile, he would have been driving Josef Goldmann and Viktor to whatever destination was given him, as Simon Rawlings had that morning.
It was regular, not sophisticated but simple.
It was a procedure that was used twice a month during the spring, summer and autumn.
Sitting in the back, on the leather seat of his 8-series Audi, Josef Goldmann waited for Viktor's return. In front of him, head back and eyes closed, was his driver, Simon Rawlings. He liked the man. Rawlings drove well, never initiated conversation, and seemed to see little. There was a litheness to his movement that came from his pedigree history: Rawlings – why Goldmann had chosen him – was a one-time sergeant in the British Parachute Regiment. It had been Goldmann's opinion, when he emigrated from Moscow to London, that he must have his own men for close protection but British men for the driving. His mind that morning was clouded. Other matters dominated his mind and had for the last two months – since Viktor's return from Sarov in the Nizhny Novgorod oblast. He could have refused what had been offered to him, perhaps should have, but had not. Every day of the last week he had checked the Internet for a weather forecast in the region of that oblast, with particular reference to the air temperature. What he had learned yesterday and the previous day had warned him to expect the call, and a mobile phone in Viktor's pocket was dedicated solely to receiving it. It was beyond anything that Josef Goldmann had attempted before, and there had been many nights in those two months that he had lain awake on his back, beside Esther while she slept, and his mind had churned with the enormity of it. The business that brought him regularly to the port of Harwich was predictable enough to allow him to be distracted.
Gulls wheeled over the car park, shrieked and yelled. Away to his right were the sheds for arrivals and departures, and above their roofs were the angles of the cranes and the white-painted superstructure of the cruise ship. The Sea Star was the first of the season, 950 passengers on board, to have returned from a Baltic sea voyage to St Petersburg. A pair of pensioners, probably using an inside cabin, would be bringing with them two large suitcases, and would have told Security on the quayside near the Hermitage that they had been so cheap in a street market they could not pass over the opportunity to purchase them ... Not sophisticated but simple. It was the waiting for the mobile call that chewed in him. A gull, flying a few feet above the car, defecated and the windscreen was spattered. Rawlings jolted into action, swearing softly. He leaped out to clean the glass, wiping it furiously.
Through the windscreen, beyond the smears, Josef saw Viktor pushing in front of him a trolley with two suitcases ... and then he stopped. He had a mobile phone in his hands, lifted it, had it against his ear – possibly for ten seconds, no more – and then it was back in his pocket, and the trolley was wheeled past the Audi. Goldmann snapped open his door, was out of it and by the boot. If any had watched the parking area, they would have seen a host of cars, large and small, expensive and cheap, into which such suitcases were loaded. At the front of the car Rawlings had finished cleaning the windscreen and was now back in the driver's seat. The man was suitable because he heard nothing and saw nothing, and could drive at speed with a soft touch. And now Rawlings had introduced his friend, brought him to share the workload, to drive the children and Goldmann's wife ... Waiting to be told of the call's message, he found that his breath came faster.
He stammered his question: 'What-what information?'
Viktor said, calm, 'They have replied to what we sent them. Just one word, difficult to hear, not a good connection, and the one word repeated three times. "Yes ... da ... da." I think I heard their car engine.'
'Just that, nothing more?'
'So, it has begun.'
'They are on the road,' Viktor said, 'and the schedule is one week.'
As if the enormity of it had struck him a powerful hammer blow, Josef Goldmann gasped. It was a moment before he had collected himself. 'Viktor, tell me, should we have followed this path?'
Viktor said, 'Too late to forget it. The offer was made, the price indicated, they accepted. Arrangements are in place, people are alerted, and they're coming. It has begun and can't be stopped.'
Goldmann winced, then snapped his fingers. He was given the keys to two suitcases. He unlocked two sets of padlocks, unbuckled reinforcing straps, dragged back zips. He rummaged through two thin layers of unwashed clothing, then felt for the catches that released the false bottom of each case. Exposed were hundred-dollar bills. Packages, each bound with elastic bands, of a hundred notes, each package with the value of ten thousand dollars. Fifty packages in the base of each bag. A tidy one million dollars, to be repeated twice a month through April and May, June and July, August and September. He replaced the lids, then the pensioners' clothing, drew the zips tight, fastened the padlocks and slammed down the boot lid. He sighed.
'Maybe twelve million comes out of St Petersburg, maybe seven million out of Tallinn, nine million out of Riga on the boats, and twenty on the roads across the frontiers. I take my cut for washing it, and I have four million, and that's the top of what the market can sustain. Two men are on the road, send a message of one word, repeated three times, and we have negotiated a fee of eleven million.'
'Your share is five point five – which means that everything coming from the boats, with expenses, is chicken shit.'
'But what is the danger when you play with chicken shit?'
Viktor had minded Josef Goldmann since 1990. He had been put alongside Josef Goldmann in the city of Perm by Reuven Weissberg. He protected Goldmann on Weissberg's orders. He heard a grim little cackle of laughter. 'Where is the excitement in living when there is no danger, where there is only a carpet of chicken shit?'
'You'll tell him now?'
'I'll call him.'
A call was made. Three or four words. A connection of three or four seconds, and no response gained.
They were driven away at speed, but within the legal limits, to a warehouse in an industrial estate outside the Essex town of Colchester. From habit Simon Rawlings twice employed basic anti- surveillance techniques: circled a roundabout four times on the A12 at Horsley Cross, and slowed on the fast dual carriageway to twenty-five miles per hour. No car had followed them on the roundabout, or slowed to keep pace with them. And the car was clean of tags – it was swept each morning. All routine. Another safe run. Risk minimal. At the warehouse on the industrial estate, the two suitcases containing a million American dollars were to be loaded into a container that would hold, when filled, a cargo of best Staffordshire bone china to be exported to the Greek zone of the island of Cyprus. Reuven Weissberg touted for the business, Josef Goldmann washed the money, and the new millionaires and asset-strippers of the Russian Federation could rest assured that their nest eggs were safe and well protected.
Josef Goldmann laundered cash and made it clean for legitimate investment, was regarded in the Serious Crime Directorate as a major Organized Crime target, and thought himself safe ... and wished that time could be turned back, that two old men had not started out on a drive of sixteen hundred kilometres, had stayed in their goddam hovels in the arse-end of Russia. But, and Viktor could have told him this, time was seldom turned back. On the return journey to London, he wondered what progress they had made – two old men and a carload that was worth, to him, a half-share in eleven million dollars – and he knew the clock was ticking.
The departure had been planned with the care and precision expected of former officers. The details of the journey, the route and the distance to be driven each day of that week, had been pored over, analysed, queried, debated and agreed.
But they had left late. Should have been gone as the dawn broke under the low cloud on a spring morning. In two weeks they would be home, his neighbour had said to his wife, with attempts at reassurance: there was enough cut wood for two weeks, they had no need of soup, bread and cheese, bills could wait for two weeks, in the car he would be warm, and what did it matter if he stank in soiled underclothes? It wasn't a posting to Afghanistan, the Chinese border or the Baltic fog fields ... It was two weeks' journey, there and back.
Then it had struck Igor Molenkov, co-conspirator and neighbour of Oleg Yashkin, that Mother's prolonged goodbye intimated that she had sensed danger he had not considered, or Yashkin spoken of. Pride, self-esteem, had rejected any acknowledgement of danger – as had anger. They were now on the road, and the car rolled along through the sodden forest of the state park, then past great stagnant lakes.
The anger remained as sharp today as when it had been bred, sharp as the talons of a fish-eating eagle circling over the park, sharp as the claws of the bears in its remotest parts. There had been so many days of anger over the betrayal he had endured, and their accumulation had put him in the Polonez car with the road map on his lap, his neighbour beside him, and a destination almost sixteen hundred kilometres to the west.
They had chosen to drive on side roads, and the potholes shook him. Because of the weight at the back of the Polonez, the car jerked with each pitch of the wheels.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Timebomb"
Copyright © 2008 Gerald Seymour.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
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