SHADOW OF THE DRAGON

    Guy Blythman


    (c) Guy Blythman 2003, 2010


SYNOPSIS

In London, an al-Qaeda cell plans a devastating terror attack against the British people; in Tokyo and Hong Kong Western “hostesses” are disappearing. DI Derek Slate of Scotland Yard launches a major undercover operation to root out the terrorists, but what he cannot possibly suspect is that they and events in the Far East are connected; and that behind the bitter conflict between the West and radical Islam a third party is at work, in the shape of an old friend – if that is the right word – who the world hasn’t seen for a while…     


PROLOGUE

General Chao Kung stood with his hands on his hips, his head swivelling from side to side as he surveyed the landscape before him, an expanse of rice fields stretching away to the range of hills on the horizon, with a few scattered peasant dwellings in sight. Was his quarry somewhere out there already, seeking to lose himself in the vast interior of their homeland?
 As he turned to look back at the huge, sprawling old palace with its tiered roofs and ornate columns he saw Field Officer Yuen emerge from it and come towards him. He went to meet Yuen half-way.
 "Well?" he asked curtly as they halted a few paces from each other.
"He is not here, Sir."  
"You have searched everywhere?" The Field Officer nodded.
 Kung made a soft bitter noise, and once more his eyes ranged over the surrounding countryside. His worst fears had been realised. How much of a start had the man had?
 He could order the troops to fan out and search the area, but something told him they would find nothing. And the more thinly they were spread, the greater the likelihood they would miss him.
How long should they go on searching?  
 He had no way of knowing we were coming, Kung thought angrily. He might at the very last moment have realised something was wrong. But he would not have time to disappear like this.  
 Kung's face tightened and he cursed inwardly. It was the same old story. The man had always had the ability to appear and disappear at will, like some evil spirit. Would that exonerate those entrusted with his capture? It was impossible to say. In the current climate anyone who was regarded as having failed the regime, whatever their position, could find themselves executed or at the very least sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment, during which they would be treated brutally. In the end whether they were or not was really a matter of whim. Kung didn't want to take the risk. 
"Did you find any clues?" It might redeem him if they had. 
"No, Sir, I'm afraid not. There is nothing."
 Kung sighed. He was silent for a while, standing with his head bowed and his hands on his hips while his subordinate waited patiently for further instructions. Then he straightened up.  
 "Call the depot at Shang-kwan and tell them to send some explosives. Seven hundred tons of gelignite should do. I want this place totally destroyed. In the meantime, the men are to continue searching the locality." It would give them something to do until the explosives arrived. He knew they would probe the area in minute, painstaking detail, intensely scrutinising every square inch. They would just be too late, that was all.
 Yuen saluted and hurried off. Kung found himself moving slowly towards the palace, drawn by some indefinable compulsion.
 He wandered in and out of the building's many rooms, peering at everything closely, trying to satisfy himself beyond doubt that the soldiers had not made a mistake. The place was completely bare, with a few tables and chairs standing about but no other furniture. There was no evidence whatsoever that human beings had recently been here. Just dust, rats and cobwebs. It might have been deserted for hundreds of years. Uncanny.  
 After a while the eerie silence got on his nerves and he went back outside, to see that the explosives truck had arrived. The soldiers were lifting the packets of gelignite down from it.
 They placed several tons at all the exit points and at equidistant positions within the building, each one connected to a detonator outside by hundreds of feet of wiring. Once the task was accomplished they withdrew to a safe distance and Kung appointed a man to stand by each of the detonators.  
 When he was certain that everyone was safely accounted for, Kung gave the order to detonate. Each man knelt and pressed the plunger. They covered their ears, and a moment later heard the rumble of the explosion, like the growling of an angry giant. They saw the palace disintegrate like an ice cream sculpture suddenly exposed to the sun as the blast ripped through it, walls and roof collapsing inwards.   
 Gradually the smoke dispersed, revealing a heap of smoking rubble from which jagged fragments of wall jutted up occasionally like enormous broken teeth. 
 Kung stomped over to his command truck and clambered into the back. He crouched over the radio, switched it on. A moment later he was speaking to Army Central Command in Peking. "This is Kung. We covered all the exits, trapped him inside the building. Your orders were to kill him, so I planted explosives, blew the whole place to pieces. He can't possibly have survived."
 General Tuan's voice crackled back. "You are certain he was within?"
 "We spotted him entering the building just as we arrived, and surrounded the place. He wouldn't have had time to get away, even if there was some kind of concealed passage. We did search the area around the building but we didn't find anything."
"We must have proof, Kung. Find the body."  
 "We're searching the rubble now, Sir. But I doubt if there's much left of him. We used very powerful explosives. I wanted to make absolutely sure he was finished, you see. There could have been a secret room..."
"Keep looking."
"Yes, Sir."
 Kung put down the receiver and straightened. Scrambling down from the truck, he regarded the soldiers who had been stationed to guard the vehicles thoughtfully. If there had been anyone in the building when the explosives went off there wouldn't, indeed, have been much left of them. It would be very hard to identify from what remained who precisely they were.   
 Hardening himself, he called Yuen over for an urgent, whispered conference in the shadow of the lorry. One or two soldiers saw him nod sombrely at what Kung was saying, but they were too far away to hear the actual words.  
 Turning away from Kung, Yuen selected a man at random and called out to him. He and the soldier, who was not afterwards to be seen alive again, vanished behind the truck. A minute later Yuen reappeared, and beckoned over two more of the men.  
 They'd go along with it all; they understood perfectly why he was doing it. They might have to do the same thing themselves one day. As for what had really happened to their quarry, Kung didn't know and didn't care.  
That was for someone else to worry about.   

Jyongwe, Tibet, 12 February 1991
Inch by inch, the Land Rover eased its way through the jostling crowds that packed the town's narrow little main street. At its wheel, Andrei Lepatov sighed as he found his passage blocked by a yak being led to market by its owner, the bells tied to its horns jingling in the gentle breeze blowing down from the mountains.  
 Eventually the town came to an end, and from then on the road got rougher and bumpier, narrowing to little more than a cart track, as the vehicle climbed the lower slopes of the mountain. By the time Lepatov reached his destination it was almost impassable. 
 He cut the engine and the Land Rover jerked to a shuddering halt. Lepatov climbed out, wrapped up tightly against the biting cold in a thick overcoat and scarf with pullover underneath. For a moment he paused to gaze up at the weathered stone walls of the ancient monastery, at its venerable grey towers, each surmounted by a gleaming golden cupola. The wind stung the flesh of his face, biting deep into it.
 He went up to the front door, the stones crunching beneath his heavy boots, and pulled the string dangling down beside it. He heard the tinkling of the little iron bell mounted high up on the wall. He rang again, just to be sure, and waited.  
 After a moment the heavy wooden door, pitted and seamed from incredible age, swung open with a mournful creak. Standing before him was an old man in silken robes and sandalled feet. His brown skin was surprisingly smooth and completely hairless. He smiled broadly at Lepatov, while eyeing him questioningly through round metal-framed spectacles.
"I am the one," said Lepatov simply.  
 The man inclined his head once, and briefly; then he turned, and Lepatov followed him down a stone-walled passage lit by flaring torches in metal holders. The sound of their feet rang out on the flagstones, echoing hollowly. 
 They passed the row of doors in the left-hand wall which led to the living quarters of the monks. Then the old man paused by a single door in the right-hand wall, placed his hand on the knob and turned it. Gently he pushed the door open and stepped through, Lepatov following a few paces behind.
 The room in which Lepatov found himself was a vast, echoing chamber which must take up the greater part of the interior of the monastery. He found himself awed by its hugeness and the atmosphere which permeated it. The floor was stone-flagged, and along each side stood a row of statues; ancient gods and buddhas, exquisitely worked in gold and bronze. Burning braziers filled the room with a sweet cloying smell like incense.
 In the centre of the room stood a bier, draped with a richly embroidered silken cloth on which lay a wooden box large enough to accommodate a human body.  
 Lepatov's guide waited, standing in the shadows at the side of the room while the Russian crossed slowly to the coffin and bent down to grasp the handle on its hinged lid. 
 He lifted the lid and gazed down reverently at the body which lay inside. He bowed.  
 He touched the body's left wrist, and immediately snatched his hand away. Cold...so cold it had almost burnt him, and as rigid as one of the statues. But a pulse still beat there, sluggish and barely detectable. 
 The arms were crossed on the chest, tightly clutching a small metal casket. Gently he unclasped them and took the casket, placing it on the floor by his feet.  
 He closed the lid and the old monk, producing an ornate metal key from beneath his robes, locked it. By now some younger monks had appeared and they lifted the coffin, if one was to call it that, onto their shoulders. Lepatov and the abbot exchanged nods and the group set off, the flickering glow of the ever-present torches lighting their way. Outside the laid the coffin gently in the back of the Land Rover and fastened it in place with thick leather straps.  
 Then they went back for the casket. If Lepatov forgot that, there would be hell to pay.  
 The old monk and a younger subordinate escorted him out to the car with it. At no time did any words pass between the three of them. Lepatov closed the rear door and locked it, then bowed stiffly to the two holy men, who returned the compliment. He climbed into the driver’s seat and the monks watched him drive off until he was out of sight. Turning away they went back inside the monastery, closing the door on the place and its secrets. 

Siberia, 30 March 1991
The Englishman could see nothing through the frost-covered windows of the truck as it bumped and jolted along the uneven path, the twin beams of its headlights stabbing through the whirling flurry of snowflakes that filled the air. But all around, he knew, was the taiga; that vast, dark forest where it was rumoured mammoths still roamed. Even in the last decade of the twentieth century it remained largely unexplored, by Man at any rate, and was thus an ideal place to build a secret research station.
 Leaning forward, he peered past the driver and through the windscreen saw the square outline of the little blockhouse, starkly revealed in the glare of the headlights. It stood in the middle of the clearing they had made thirty years before in the heart of the forest.
 The massive, multi-wheeled vehicle shuddered to a halt, and the driver announced curtly that they had arrived. Grunting his thanks the Englishman shifted himself round, his gloved fingers fumbling with the door handle. 
 He stepped down from the truck, his boots sinking deep into the ankle-high carpet of snow that covered the ground. He could feel the biting cold even through his multiple layers of thick woollen clothing. A fur hat was jammed down hard on his head, its earpieces tied in place underneath the chin.
 He tramped through the snow to where Lepatov and Duquesne stood waiting to greet him, likewise tightly wrapped up against the near-Arctic conditions. He gave the ritual sign of greeting, raising his right forearm and extending it across his chest with the palm outwards, and his colleagues returned the gesture. They walked with him to the six-inch thick steel door in the concrete wall of the block-house.  
 Lepatov inserted his card in the slot in the wall, and the panel of transparent material beneath it glowed with a green light. The door slid open and the three men entered the building. A flurry of snowflakes blew in after them, to dissolve rapidly in the warmth of the base as the door hissed shut.
 "I trust you had a safe journey," said Duquesne as they made their way down the corridor to the lift. 
 The Englishman nodded. "No problems. Our contact in the Kremlin made sure of that. So how is our patient, then? Up and about yet?"
 "Not yet," answered Lepatov. "Though we've begun the revivification process. We thought we'd try it on the animal first. It seemed wise."
 "It's been tested on humans already, and it's worked. Still, I don't suppose it would do any harm. What was the result?"
"You'll see in a moment."
 The lift took them down to the lower level where the Englishman followed his colleagues along a succession of blank-walled corridors, illuminated by strip lights in the ceiling, to a pair of metal doors with a control panel beside them. Lepatov fed his card into the slot.  
 The long low room was brightly lit and cool, with a fresh but sterile kind of smell permeating it. Just inside it a man in a white smock stood where he had been waiting to greet them, hands clasped behind his back. With his sparse white hair and heavily lined face he was clearly old. His sunken, watery eyes blinked at the three men from behind half-moon spectacles. His name was Hans Krogl, he was Austrian by birth, and his scientific career went back some fifty years.  He had first achieved fame, or rather notoriety, under the Nazis, working alongside a gentleman called Dr Josef Mengele.  Together the two had performed experiments of a kind which would have earned them a death sentence, or at the very least life imprisonment, had they been unlucky enough to get caught at the end of the war. Mengele fled to Brazil where he drowned after suffering a heart attack while bathing in the sea; Krogl still remained at large, wanted by the police forces of several countries. 
 As the years of hiding wore on Krogl felt more and more remote from the Nazi era and from the regime itself, while refusing to repent of anything he had done. As a consequence, he found he could sufficiently modify his political opinions to serve a different kind of cause, one which in many ways appealed to him just as much as had that of Adolf Hitler.  
 Lepatov introduced him to the Englishman, and the two shook hands warmly. Then he beckoned them follow him over to a bench where stood the metal casket that had been in the coffin Lepatov had removed from the monastery. The lid of the casket was open; they crowded round it and peered inside.
 "It's asleep at the moment," Krogl told them. "It doesn't like to leave the casket. Seems to have made itself at home there."
 At first they saw just a ball of thick white fur, surrounded by a mass of wiring and complex circuitry. Then the creature within the casket sensed their presence and stirred, raising its head. Its eyelids flickered open and it gazed up at them vacantly, unseeing at first. For a while it just sat there looking at them in that blank fashion; then its tufted ears pricked up and with a shrill squeak it scrambled from the casket and sat on the bench peering curiously at its environment, a suggestion of apprehension in its manner.
 "Incredible," breathed the Englishman softly. "And you're sure there are no ill effects?"
"None at all. The creature is perfectly healthy."
 Krogl moved away, and they followed him to where the coffin from the monastery sat on a raised dais, its lid off to reveal the naked body inside. It was not quite naked, for the man wore a signet ring on the long index finger of his left hand; on it was engraved the image of a rearing dragon. Within the coffin the body was surrounded by a mass of complex but strangely antiquated-looking circuitry, which gave the impression of having been built many years ago but to a design way ahead of its time. The wires and electrodes attached to the body's chest, stomach, and temples led to an array of more modern equipment standing flush against the far wall. 
 Krogl took a hypodermic needle from the pocket of his smock and slipped off the safety cap. Bending stiffly, he placed the point of the needle against the body's left wrist and pressed the plunger.
 After a few seconds he crossed to the console by the wall, studying the readings on its dials. The others, none of whom were scientists, tried to make some sense of them. "Is there anything much happening at the moment?" asked Duquesne. 
 The needles on the dials were all quivering just above zero. On the console lights were pulsing gently and a low hum of power could be heard from within it.  
 "No, not yet," Krogl replied. "But it shouldn't be long. About half an hour." He began moving between the instruments on the console and the equipment in the coffin, making adjustments to both.  
 His three companions turned to look at the body in the coffin. The gentle rise and fall of the man’s chest was barely noticeable, and his skin still had a pronounced bluish tinge. Lepatov felt the body's wrist. Cold, but not as cold as it had been in the monastery. And the pulse was definitely stronger. 
"It's a little irregular," he remarked anxiously.  
 "That is to be expected. His body is merely reacting to the change in temperature." 
 Returning to the console, they saw that the needles were moving very slowly up the scale, a fraction at a time. And the humming from within its workings seemed louder. 
 Krogl studied the readings again. "Breathing shallow, but regular now."  
 A blip of light appeared on a screen and began to travel across it, every few seconds flaring up in a zig-zag. "Heartbeat increasing," announced the Austrian.  
 Trembling with nervous anticipation they waited, glancing from time to time at the clock on the wall as it ticked away the minutes, while Krogl continued to dart in little birdlike movements between the coffin and the console, occasionally pausing to stare long and hard at the instruments on the latter. Whenever the moving blip of light reached the edge of the screen it vanished to reappear on the other side of it, resuming its journey. It continued to flare up, at intervals which grew gradually shorter, while the blue tinge of the body's skin slowly faded.
 Eventually Krogl came to a decision. Slowly, very slowly, he started to turn a knob on the console. The needles crept steadily up towards 37 degrees centigrade − the normal body temperature for a human being. On another screen a network of coloured lines, forming a pattern like an intricate cobweb, had illuminated and was flashing brightly, at the same time shifting with a rising and falling motion like some gigantic lung. There was mounting excitement in Krogl's voice. "Brain activity increasing steadily. Heartbeat increasing..."   
 Lepatov gave a little cry as the body in the coffin suddenly stirred. Its lips parted slightly and a faint moan issued from between them.  
 The epicanthic eyelids flickered. Suddenly they sprang open, and the four men drew back in astonishment and awe, each falling to his knees reverently as the eyes blazed with intelligence and life, taking their first piercing look at the world to which they had been dead for over thirty years but was now once again to know their baleful stare.


PART ONE

ONE
Insulated in scarf and greatcoat against the autumn chill, his hands clasped firmly behind his ramrod-straight back, Colonel Dmitri Ruzakhov plodded up and down on one of his routine tours of the establishment under his care, where he was eking out more or less happily the few years which remained to him before retirement. He paused briefly to gaze out over the dreary vista of scruffy fields and stunted trees beyond the perimeter fence, then moved on. He nodded affably to a security guard as the man appeared around the corner of one of the research laboratories, rifle slung over his shoulder.  
"All well, Skorev?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir."
“Good. You must be due for a spell of leave soon, surely?"
"I was going to take a week off next month, Sir."
 "You do that. You've earned it, Skorev. Tell them that from me."
"Thankyou, Sir." 
"Where are you going?"
 "I expect I'll be spending the time in Moscow with my family, Sir." Guiltily Ruzakhov reflected that the guard could not, unlike himself, afford to take his wife and children to some luxury resort on the shores of the Black Sea. His pay simply wasn't enough. It was something that angered as well as embarrassed Ruzakhov. Men like Skorev, who carried out their duties efficiently and without complaint, deserved better than that, especially after all the service they'd given their country. Some could no longer give it because they'd been laid off as part of scaling down the motherland's armed forces in a post-Cold War era.
 He thought he should offer the man some consolation. "Well, it's better than being stuck out here, eh?" he grinned.  
 "You seem to manage it very well, Sir," Skorev commented politely.  
 Ruzakhov laughed. "My pension depends on it," he grunted, and with a smile ambled on his way.  
 He wouldn't have minded a spot of leave himself, come to think of it. He'd seen very little of his family in recent months. He particularly wanted to spend some time with his two new grandchildren, subconsciously motivated, he suspected, by a fear that in an increasingly violent and dangerous world their lives might prove to be all too short. 
 But in the meantime he would do his job uncomplainingly, like Skorev. Indeed, he often went beyond what was expected of him; it wasn't strictly necessary for him to inspect the place personally on a regular basis, and yet he did. Humdrum matters such as the administration of the canteen could be left to others, but anything to do with security Ruzakhov insisted on being personally involved in, sometimes to the extent of making himself a nuisance.
 His perambulations took him to the main research laboratory, where he gazed for a while through the observation window at the white-coated scientists toiling at their workbenches.  His eyes travelled from them along the rows of metal canisters with their red warning signs and skull-and-crossbones insignia.
 The station was a collection of bleak featureless cubes, soulless constructions of metal and glass and concrete dating back to the 1960s. It served two functions. Part was a military base and part a repository for the chemical and biological weapons Russia had stockpiled since active research into such methods of warfare ceased in 1992. Here were stored materials such as the gas which had been used to overcome the terrorists who had taken hundreds of people hostage in a Moscow theatre not so long ago, at considerable cost in innocent lives. Strictly speaking, Russia was not supposed to have them. They were a cause of considerable embarrassment and in many ways it would be better if they were destroyed as soon as possible. The trouble was that when there were elements in the Islamic world who wanted to destroy all infidels and were seeking to obtain weapons of mass destruction in order to do so, Moscow was in no way inclined to give up her own biological arsenal. Whether the possibility of their own annihilation would deter such people Ruzakhov couldn't say, but if they did launch a full-scale attack it seemed to him odd, and unacceptable, that Russia should not have the opportunity of retaliation.  
 If those Chechen bastards didn't watch themselves, he thought viciously.
 These days Russia might be falling apart but it was still his country, whoever governed it, and they had no right to slaughter its citizens. Anger flared up in him as he saw in his mind the dead faces of children and young people among the rubble of a bomb-devastated apartment block.
 He wished he was still young and fit enough for active service. My God, he'd show the murdering scum a thing or two.  
 Until some better alternative was available, the gas could not be dispensed with. Had it not been used in the business at the theatre, the outcome would have been far worse; no more than a handful of people would have survived. Vladimir Putin had simply been making the best of what was available to him. 
 So for the time being, nobody was touching the weapons. They were staying exactly where they were. Ruzakhov's instructions to that effect had been unequivocal. Any security lapses, even relatively small ones, and he would find himself without a job, without a pension, and facing a long spell in prison. Ruzakhov was an efficient soldier and administrator and didn't really need to have the law laid down to him in this way, but he didn't resent the tone of the instructions. He accepted them and obeyed them to the letter, as he had obeyed every order he'd been given since joining the Army as a private soldier forty years ago.
 Dmitri Ruzakhov was a loyal servant of his country, with a distinguished record of service to it which might have been even more distinguished if an injury to his arm in Afghanistan hadn't, to his bitter disappointment, put an end to his fighting career. The weapons were crucial to the protection o its vital interests and there was no way under the sun he could ever allow them to leave the base except under instructions from higher authority, which he had not received. To do so would have been gross negligence. Nor could his loyalty be bought; he was totally incorruptible.
 And yet at fourteen minutes past two that afternoon he stood by and watched, a benign smile on his face, as a lorry drove out of the gates of the complex laden with crates full of ampoules containing between them enough anthrax and smallpox to wipe out an entire city.  

    


TWO
In the Cabinet Room at the Government Offices in the Zhonghanhai district of Beijing, to the west of the district known as the Forbidden City, there was taking place one of the regular meetings of the Communist Party, which still held de facto power in China although officially the supreme executive organ was the State Council consisting of the Prime Minister, four Deputy Prime Ministers and the State Councillors. Seated around the table were all seven members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, including Hu Jintao, who headed both the government and the Party as state president and Communist Party general secretary, Hu's predecessor Jiang Zemin, who had retained his post as chairman of the party, Premier of the State Council Wen Jiabao, and Wu Yi, Vice-Premier of the Council and one of the first women to have attained a prominent position in the government. Two other people, both non-politicians, were present. One was General Ti Peng, the head of the country's armed forces; he was there because matters affecting state security were to be discussed. The other was the billionaire Yu Chen, recognised leader of China's business community. His regular attendance at these meetings was a sign of his increasing status and the importance now accorded to the country's entrepreneurial sector. 
 The mood of the meeting was not good, because of certain long-running problems that were hanging over its head.  Thanks to the late Deng Xiaoping the last twenty years had brought political stability and rising living standards to China. But all was far from well. Alongside the mobile phones, fast Western cars, smart Italian suits and fast-food restaurants there were still inefficient, state-owned factories belching pollution into the atmosphere. Corruption was rife. The rural areas, in contrast to the affluent towns, were stricken with poverty, breeding widespread social unrest. The masses of the peasantry, along with many of the urban workers, were little better off than they had been under Mao Tse-tung. Generally speaking there were too many people competing for a finite supply of goods, one consequence of the country's vast population which was growing again now that the "one family, one child" rule had been relaxed. 
 Hand in hand with economic grievances went increasing calls for democracy, for an end to a penal system which incarcerated murderers and political activists together. In the provinces the loyalties of the Red Army were to feudal leaders, not elected officials. The power of the regional governments was growing, especially in the prospering coastal cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou, and Beijing was experiencing difficulty in collecting taxes.    
 Hu Jintao was aware that his own position, maintained by a fragile web of alliances and compromises, was none too secure. China had never had a system for ensuring an orderly transfer of power. And Hu knew that a faction struggle within the Party at a time of economic crisis could have far-reaching and disastrous consequences.  
 China was facing a watershed. If all these difficulties could be surmounted she might emerge the most powerful and prosperous nation in the world. If they were not she could disintegrate into anarchy. It was a danger both Chinese and foreign commentators were equally aware of.
 It was because no solution to the problem was yet identifiable that this current meeting was concerned with the foreign situation rather than the domestic one. For there were problems there too. Relations with the West were on the whole good, but there was considerable concern over China's appalling human rights record. People objected to a country where most newspapers were controlled by the government, where there was no provision for habeus corpus, and where you could still be hung for crimes other than murder. And secretly America feared China's size and potential power, the massive population which its vast area − it was the third largest country in the world − enabled it to accommodate, thinking of it as the real enemy in the long run rather than Islamic terrorism. Its growing economic strength was beginning to trouble the Americans as much as Japan's had in the 1980s.
 "Hopefully, though," Hu was telling his colleagues, "the Americans will be too busy reconstructing Iraq in a way which is compatible with their interests, and dealing with other Middle Eastern issues, to worry too much about anything we might do."
 "Does that mean we may have a free hand in Taiwan?" asked Wen Jiabao eagerly.
 "I would not advise any deviation from our current foreign policy," Hu told him.  
 A White Paper of 1998 had stressed the defensive nature of China's military policy, along with her desire to participate actively in the international arms control and disarmament process. Indeed the active strength of the People's Liberation Army, as China's total armed forces including the navy and air force were called, had since 1997 been reduced in terms of personnel. And although China had her own nuclear arsenal it had not undergone any massive increase in recent years. China insisted she would use nuclear weapons only if attacked by another power. She stressed that she was committed to resolving all disputes with neighbouring countries over territory or maritime rights by consultation alone. Though she considered Taiwan to be an inseparable part of herself, she hoped to settle the issue by bringing about a "peaceful reunification" of the two countries.  
 One thing about the Taiwan dispute was however highly significant. China had stated that if peaceful methods failed she would "not commit {herself}not to resort to force" over the matter. In other words, in this as perhaps in other areas she was keeping her options open. But at the moment the main concern of her leaders was to solve their domestic problems in a way that did not involve relinquishing their own power and thus leaving themselves vulnerable to retribution from those who had not profited by the system over which they presided. It would be a difficult enough task without the economic and other problems a war over Taiwan might cause. 
 This was the situation as Hu perceived it. "It would be wise not to antagonise the Americans until we have the means to rival them in military strength," he told the meeting.
 "Should we not be building up our military strength now?" asked Wen. "Otherwise that day will be forever postponed."
 "The additional expenditure will be damaging to the economy," said Hu. "We must wait and see if we can resolve our domestic difficulties first. In the meantime, who knows what will happen in the world?"
 He indicated the letter lying on the desk before him. It was in Chinese, but bore the seal of the President of the United States. "There is one thing to which we need to give some attention. Bush has asked us to deal with the militants within our borders." He read out the letter, which spoke at length of the obligations everyone had to defend the lives and wellbeing of innocent people the world over. "How are we to respond to this?" 
 General Ti Peng snorted. "Bush is simply trying to look as busy as possible on the issue. Ever since the attacks in New York and Washington he has been running around as if he is mad, because they have given him something to do. There is no evidence that our own Muslims have been involved in acts of terrorism outside China. At most their aims are confined to securing the independence of Xinjiang. And even there they do not cause too much trouble."
 Islam had come to China in the first century AD by the Christian calendar, through Arab and Persian merchants who reached it via the sea routes around India. In several places there grew up large Muslim communities which were allowed to keep their own way of life and system of laws. Later other Muslims from the sultanates of Central Asia were settled in China by the Mongols.
 Over the centuries the Muslims became fully integrated into Chinese society. They adopted Chinese names, and became fluent in the Chinese language as well as physically indistinguishable, in many cases, from the majority Han ethnic group. This accommodation first began to break down in the middle years of the nineteenth century, when a revivalist movement which sought to assert the separate cultural identity of Muslims led to revolts in several western provinces. In one, Yunnan, an independent Muslim state was actually proclaimed. The rebellions were put down with great bloodshed, which strengthened the desire of the Muslims to achieve political independence from their Han compatriots.  There had been periodic unrest ever since.  
 In August 1949 a number of prominent Muslims who had been opposed to Chinese rule died in a mysterious plane crash while on their way to Peking for talks with the country's new Communist leaders. Since then the Communists had adopted a stick and carrot approach, repressing the Muslims whenever relations with Russia or the West were poor − they tended to inhabit border regions which were crucial to China's security − and making concessions to them, which always fell short of granting complete independence, when the international situation improved. The 1980s and 1990s saw a conscious effort to reintegrate the Muslims peacefully, to contribute to their economic development and to pay lip-service to the principle of cultural autonomy in order to ensure stability in the border areas. There were indications that these moves had failed to satisfy them.
 There were currently some 35 million Muslims in the People's Republic. Large communities of them existed in the regions of Shanxi, Gansu, Yunnan and Sichuan, and in smaller but by no means negligible groups within the major cities, but the heaviest concentrations were to be found in China's westernmost province, Xinjiang, which was supposedly autonomous. While the urban and eastern Muslims were fairly Sinicised, those of the west tended to be more assertive of their traditional identity. Ethnically they were Uighur, a hardy people of Turkic origin who had originally been nomads and traders, leading their camel and donkey caravans from one brackish well to another. Though they had lived a settled existence since the twelfth century they still retained the independent spirit of their wandering forbears. 
 The tendency of Islam not to distinguish between the political and the social, the secular and the holy, disposed the Uighur to seek the creation of a separate Muslim state. Not only that, but since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of the Muslim republics of Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, they had been able to observe the autonomy and higher living standards of their relations over the border. Although a lot of money had already been invested in the economic development of Xinjiang, the Uighurs complained with justification that all the good jobs were going to the Han immigrants with whom the government was attempting to colonise the region, and who tended to despise the indigenous population as lacking in intelligence and generally little better than animals. 
 The Uighur already had a history of taking part in nationalist uprisings, notably during the Cultural Revolution and a period in the early 1980s. In February 1997 Muslim separatists in the city of Yining started riots in which nine people died. When some 30 Muslims were arrested for their role in the disturbances the separatists responded by blowing up three buses in the town of Urumchi, killing nine more; and there were further deaths when a mob attacked the bus taking some of the February rioters to prison. The extremists vowed to continue their campaign of violent protest until Xinjiang gained its freedom. In response Beijing had clamped down heavily on separatist activities and was keeping a close eye on everything that went on there. The government's fear was that Xinjiang's Muslims would be infected by the radical brand of Islam espoused by Osama bin Laden and his kind − regardless of how well they were treated, and they certainly had some cause for feeling resentful at their lot. 
 "That they are peaceful now does mean they cannot become radicalised in the future," Jiang Zemin argued. "They will target anywhere that seems to be a political or an ideological threat to the freedom and the way of life of Muslims. They are fanatics. They will too easily fall under the influence of someone like bin Laden."
 "That has not yet happened," Wu Yi pointed out. "And if it could it already would have. Our Muslims are not interested in such things. And bin Laden is careful not to antagonise us. He sees that we are having nothing to do with the conflict between the West and Islam, and wishes that state of affairs to continue. Just as we should. This "war on terrorism" is the West's concern and we can have no stake in it."  
 Hu Jintao nodded. "We will survive as long as we keep out of their quarrels. If we are dragged into them it will be disastrous for us. Let them destroy themselves if they want to. We are resilient and numerous enough to survive whatever catastrophe their foolishness may bring about."
 "If we do nothing to antagonise Muslim militants, if we meet those of their demands which are reasonable, they will not harm us." Wu Yi again.
 "That will mean relaxing our policy towards Islam within our own borders," said Jiang Zemin. "It may mean conceding independence to Xinjiang. If we do that, the whole country may break up." He was voicing an ever-present, deeply-rooted fear.  
 "If we do nothing at all, Bush will say we are supporting terrorism," one minister told the meeting. "He will use it as an excuse to target us, to label us a rogue state."
 Hu Jintao said what was in all their minds. "We cannot avoid this issue and its implications."
 General Ti Peng spoke again. And what he said left those around him gaping in astonishment.
 "Let Tibet go. Let Xinjiang go. Let all such places go. Ours is a big country; vast, cumbersome and unwieldy. That makes it difficult to govern, especially given our current difficulties. One reason the Soviet Union collapsed is that it was too large; it was fortunate that they allowed Georgia, Armenia, Ukraine, the Baltic states and the Central Asian Republics their independence. If they were to do the same with Chechnya, it would be one less problem for them. Of course now their war with the separatists there has been going on for too long, and hearts have become hardened. We do not want to find ourselves in a similar situation sometime in the future."
 "What you suggest would leave us vulnerable," Wen Jiabao objected. Where foreign affairs were concerned he was a Communist of the old school. But in the end he opposed the concession of independence merely because it would be a major blow to China's pride.  
 "We are strong enough to cope. We are a nation of one billion people, a quarter of the Earth's population. And we have the strength to defend our country whatever happens to Tibet or Xinjiang. We must believe in ourselves. We do not have to oppress other peoples in order to guarantee our security."
 There was silence around the table for about a minute after the General had finished speaking. His views went against the whole of China's recent foreign policy. That they should be expressed by the head of the country's armed forces was astonishing.
 "Xinjiang does not need independence," Jiang Zemin insisted.  "We have agreed that the bombings there are a relatively isolated occurrence. There is no proof of a sustained campaign against the state." 
 "And only if there was would there be any dishonour in our receiving the Muslims as friends," said the General, seizing on the point. "Let us invite them to send a representative to Beijing for talks. We should at least be prepared to concede a further degree of autonomy for Xinjiang."
 "Until there is a real problem," Jiang Zemin said, "I do not see that any concessions are justified."
 "Once there is a problem, and it cannot be assumed there will never be one, giving independence to Xinjiang may be the only way to solve it. The difficulty will not be resolved without our losing face. If it appears that we are granting that gracious concession entirely on our own initative because we have chosen to be merciful and compassionate, we will preserve our dignity."
 It was an argument Hu and his colleagues could understand, and which appealed to them. However, they weren't immediately convinced. A profound silence fell upon the room as they considered the General's suggestion.  
 It was eventually broken by Wu Yi. "Once Xinjiang is independent, it may be that the other Muslims in China will go to live there, where they may be under Islamic rule. We would be removing a possible source of future tension."
 "And creating another," Wen Jiabao protested. "What about the non-Muslims living in Xinjiang? They will become a minority and not be happy about that. We can't betray them."
 "We must bear in mind," General Ti Peng said, "how suspicious and devious the Americans are. Their ultimate goal is to remove us as a potential threat to their place in the world. They could at some point use the Muslim problem as an excuse to take action against us."
Silence fell again. A stalemate had been reached.
 At this point Yu Chen spoke. He had kept quiet until now, listening carefully to what the others had been saying and evaluating the situation in his mind. "There is no need at the moment to grant full independence. Let us see how the situation develops. In the meantime we must open discussions with the Muslims on the general issue of their relations with the state and on the economic revival of the region. If people are prospering financially under the existing system, and their rights and distinct culture are respected, they are less likely to be restive."
 Several of the ministers nodded in agreement, at once seeing the sense in what he said. For a moment the rest still looked uncertain, then they too inclined their heads approvingly.  Yu Chen had an air of authority which usually swung associates round to his point of view. 
 "I should like to have responsibility for the economic side of the initiative," Yu Chen continued.
 Hu Jintao inclined his head. "That would be appropriate."  Yu Chen nodded his thanks.
 It was a mark of the businessman's persuasive personality that everyone assumed his proposal had already been accepted. "Who shall we make the approach to?" asked Wu Yi. "The Muslims will need a single representative in any talks which take place."
 "There is a man in Kashkuk named Li Tan," General Ti Peng said. "He is imam at the principal mosque there. He has no official authority and no political power but is a respected figure in the region." In public life religion counted for more in Muslim societies than it did in either China or the West, and although there was no hierarchical structure in Islam moral and spiritual authority could be more important than one's official position, as indeed it could elsewhere. Li Tan was thus the nearest thing Xinjiang had to a national leader. "I think he is the most likely candidate.” 
 Hu Jintao looked round the table. "Are we agreed on that?" Again a succession of heads nodded.   
 He turned to Li Dek Su, the Minister in charge of Ethnic Affairs. "I suggest you make the first contact with Li Tan."  Yu Chen asked that he should have the opportunity to speak to Li Tan himself, regarding the economic aspect of things. The request was agreed to. 
 With the matter thus settled, the meeting then turned its attention to other, rather more difficult problems. Yu Chen took little part in these proceedings; as someone whose profession was mainly that of financier he had always preferred, so he said, to keep out of purely political matters. 
 He just sat back and listened with polite attentiveness to the conversation of the ministers, occasionally stroking the signet ring on the index finger of his left hand, the one with the dragon design, thoughtfully.


THREE
Room 419, CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia, USA
Patrick Lascelles, Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA, settled himself in his padded leather swivel chair and addressed the men and women gathered before him in his familiar terse, clipped voice. "You know the score, folks. A few hundred tons of smallpox and anthrax just went missing from a scientific base in Russia. I think you could say it's not good."
 "Of course," he sighed, "stuff like that is always going missing." Not that it made any difference, of course, to the serious nature of the problem. "But this time the circumstances are particularly scary. That's why they've specifically asked us for help. There's no explanation as to how these guys, whoever they were, could just walk out of that place with the goods. A lorry was spotted entering and later leaving the centre but as far as the security people knew it was delivering food supplies for the canteen. The samples weren't discovered to be missing for several hours. Ruzakhov always insisted on personally checking everything, so how he didn't spot what was going on I just can't figure out. He doesn't know himself."
 "What's happened to him now?" asked Aaron Sternhold, head of the Agency's Office of Scientific and Weapons Research.
 "He's been retired. He was due to pack it in in a few years anyway. If it was anything more severe than that, people would want to know why it was done, and that would mean the secret leaking out. Moscow would rather the world at large didn't find out what's happened. In any case, I think they accept it wasn't his fault. They're as mystified by the whole business as he is." Lascelles sighed. "The poor son of a bitch, I bet he's really screwed up over it."
 Meyer Louwitz, head of the anti-terrorism section, frowned. "I can't see how they could have done it." They'd all studied the report in detail. "Everything suggests Ruzakhov is thoroughly reliable, and it'd have to come through him."  
 "Wouldn't there have been someone else who noticed something?" said Sternhold. "The guards..."
 "Seems he told them to stand down," Lascelles said. "But he doesn't remember doing it."
 "Our main worry," he went on, "is that this means a major terrorist attack is being planned somewhere. The Russians are already on full alert. We've issued a warning to all other friendly states."
 "So is there any idea where the material could have ended up?" asked Sternhold.
 "The lorry  − at least they think it was the same one − was last spotted heading south towards the Kazakh border. That's not to say the stuff did end up in Kazakhstan. Its ultimate destination could have been somewhere else entirely." He sighed bitterly. "If the Kazakhs are in on it, they won't be too willing to lend a hand with the investigation."   
"But the Russians want us to help them track the materials down?"
 "And to try and find out how someone was able to spirit them away under Ruzakhov’s nose. But if they could do that my guess is they can also prevent us from finding out where they took them. Somehow I don't think we're gonna get anywhere."
 And indeed they didn't. Despite an international search involving the police forces and intelligence services of a dozen nations no clues were to be uncovered to the whereabouts of the missing anthrax and smallpox. Over the next few weeks Lascelles and his colleagues were to be haunted, night and day, by the sickening thought that someone somewhere was sitting on a quantity of poison big enough to wipe out entire cities, and that at any moment they might release it. Because they hadn't taken it just to look at it.

Bobby Wu looked down at the woman who sat slumped in the armchair before him, her hands and feet tied with rope, her mouth taped with sticking plaster. Her large, dead eyes stared up at him in what had been a desperate, and entirely futile appeal for mercy. There was a broad band of blood around her throat where he’d cut it. She was Russian, with wide Slavic cheekbones and natural blonde hair, and very beautiful.
 Normally his organisation didn't hit members of the white community, being well aware of the trouble it might cause. But she had been a prostitute; Wu had no regard for her and he didn't expect anyone else would either. She and her pimp had gone back on a deal by which the proceeds from her would be split between their respective organisations; cheated him, as he saw it. The pimp was next door in the blood-spattered kitchen, hacked to death and with his genitals stuffed in his mouth. 
 He supposed one consequence of multiculturalism, though not one that its proponents had intended, was that criminals, interpreting it according to their own peculiar philosophy, saw it as a licence to prey on those beyond their own ethnic group with impunity, undeterred by any of the old inhibitions. At the same time the increasing madness, and nastiness, of the world was breaking down existing conventions. Nonetheless harm, of whatever sort, to the non-Chinese community from the activities of Wu's organization  was most likely to come through involvement in vice. If you dabbled in that kind of thing you were always likely to get hurt, whoever you might happen to be. 
 Wu lingered for a moment more, then nodded to his companions. Silently the four men exited the sumptiously furnished apartment and descended the steep, narrow flight of stairs to the ground floor where they split up, Wu and one of the henchmen leaving by the front door while the other two slipped out the back. This was how they had entered the building in the first place; by their reckoning it would look less sinister and suspicious than if they all came in and went out together.  
 Wu and the henchman sauntered innocently down the street to where their car was parked, and Wu opened the door. They would now drive to his flat in Mayfair, also the gang's headquarters, where the two men who had left by the back would later rejoin them.
 As Wu slid himself into the front passenger seat his mobile phone rang.  
 "I have a job for you, Chang Wu," said the caller, using his full Chinese name rather than that Wu had given himself in the belief that Westerners would find the real one difficult to pronounce.  
 Wu sat up stiffly, his eyes widening in astonishment and awe. Even though he was dealing with a disembodied voice, he was nonetheless spellbound at the thought of who it belonged to. He managed to collect his wits.
 "What is your wish?" he asked in a tone of humble subservience.  
 When his master had finished explaining he threw himself back in the seat, looking decidedly unhappy. "But a white person who is not a criminal," he protested, in as respectful a tone as he could manage. "There will be…ramifications. It will not look good for us."
 "I understand, Chang Wu. Do not worry. You do not need to carry out the operation yourselves. Simply find someone who has the necessary skill and experience and who can be trusted to keep silence. As long as they are not from the Chinese community. That way the, ah, ramifications will be avoided.  And you and I can insulate ourselves from any suspicion." 
"It will not be easy."
 "That does not mean it is impossible. Do it, Chang Wu. It is a matter of very great importance to me."
 Wu found himself nodding obediently, as he would if he had been in the man's actual presence rather than listening to avoice from thousands of miles away. "Of course. I will see to it as soon as I can, and let you know what happens."
"Do not fail me." With that the phone went dead.  
 "Let's go," Wu told his driver. As the car started off, he contemplated the task with which he had been entrusted. It would require some thought, but he supposed it could be done.  In the end, it would be largely a matter of money.

It had been Li Tan's first ever visit to Beijing, and as the official limousine with its police escort drove him through the city centre towards his meeting with the State Council he was alternately fascinated and overwhelmed. 
 The little man with the round, chubby face gazed wide-eyed at the towering skyscrapers and office blocks, the busy streets packed with cars and buses and the scores of people thronging the pavements. Altogether, he decided, this great bustling city was rather frightening. He much preferred the simple peace and quiet of his home town of Kashkuk, a relative backwater in a sparsely-populated rural area.  Beijing was so big and so noisy that it seemed like some gigantic and terrifying monster, and the feel, the atmosphere, of the place was strange and unpleasant. The big modern buildings thrusting high into the sky, their lines so plain and severe, had an intimidating effect upon his soul, making him feel small in other respects than his physical size.
Just remember, he told himself, Allah is bigger than all of this.
 Glancing at him from time to time Li Dek Su, who sat beside him in the back of the car, thought he did not look the stuff of which leaders were made. It had been apparent from what conversation they had had since meeting at the airport that politics were above his head. Li Dek Su wondered whether he was really a good candidate for the role they had in mind for him. But then the need was for someone who had the right degree of influence with his fellow Muslims, and on that count Li Tan met their requirements.
 He was nearing sixty, with hair and beard already snow-white, and inclined towards tubbiness. Like many inhabitants of Xinjiang his features were less Mongoloid than those of the Han Chinese, the epicanthic eye-folds being almost absent, and he could probably have passed for a Caucasian.  Otherwise there wasn't very much you could say about him. He wore the lace cap and white robe popular among traditionalist Muslims.  
 As the car drew up outside the government building and Li Dek Su announced that they had arrived, Li Tan felt his apprehension mount.  
 Li Dek Su had conducted him to the cabinet room, where he was greeted with a friendly politeness that reassured him.  Hu Jintao inquired whether he and his family were well. He answered that they were and hoped that his hosts could say the same of their own. Once the niceties were finally concluded they got down to business. Li Tan listened politely to what they said, occasionally nodding in agreement with something. He was less of an active participant in the talks than a messenger who would return to his people with news of what had been decided; that was quite adequate for Beijing's purposes.
 They explained what they sought to do and asked that Li Tan calm his people, suppressing the excitement they would feel at the prospect of independence so that it was not rushed into too quickly with disastrous consequences. This he seemed to understand.  
 As the meeting progressed, Li Tan seemed to grow more confident and self-assured. When Hu Jintao stressed that there must be respect for the rights of the Han minority, or Beijing might feel constrained to intervene to guarantee them, Li Tan pointed out with a slightly sardonic expression that if Beijing had the right of intervention in such matters then it could not be said to have fully relinquished control of the province. He did however stress that in the addresses he gave to his congregation at the mosque he would do his best to ensure the Muslims of Xinjiang treated the Han well and would not seek revenge for the unfortunate…differences there had been in the past.
 They agreed on a plan for the gradual cession of power to a regional council, whose membership was to be decided by Xinjiang without any interference from the centre. This council was to have full control over internal matters, while Beijing remained responsible for foreign policy and military affairs. The considerable degree of self-government Xinjiang would gain might perhaps be extended to full independence at some future date.  
 This concluded the political part of the discussion. Li Tan and Yu Chen had then gone off to the businessman's house, a villa set in an extensive garden fringed with high hedges and dotted with shrubs, bushes and little trees. It was built in the traditional Chinese style, with a flared roof overhanging the walls and supported at its corners by wooden columns with ornate capitals, and furnished in the same way with a carpeted floor, silken tapestries on the walls, and an assortment of precious ornaments dotted about. There were ornamental vases and statuettes, many of them obviously of great antiquity, lacquered wood cabinets. A fearsome-looking porcelain dragon reared up as if to strike. Li Tan’s eyes fell on a lampstand in the shape of a Chinese mandarin, whose head nodded backwards and forwards, and an Ormolu clock. Many of these ornaments, if not most, were of jade; green seemed to be a favourite colour of Yu Chen's. Li Tan looked round the living room admiringly; it was not, strictly speaking, the culture to which he belonged but he appreciated the decor nonetheless. 
 They sat down to eat a meal of Beijing duck with pancakes and plum sauce, over which they talked about each other's families. On Yu Chen's side there was not much to say, for it seemed he had no family. Then they moved on to the geopolitical situation which they discussed in general, neutral terms. Finally they came to what had been the purpose of their meeting, the economic revival of Xinjiang. Again the imam confined himself mainly to listening; the economy of his home province being a fairly simple, relatively backward one, he found major questions of trade and finance to be largely beyond his understanding.  
 "If Xinjiang is to be independent, we would naturally prefer it to be friendly with China," Yu Chen said. "That means there must be greater trade links."
 "Of course," replied Li Tan, who could grasp that basic point at least.  
 "And it would be of considerable benefit to the local population. Your region of the country is a very poor one, it must be admitted."
"We are poor, yes," acknowledged Li Tan.  "But we are happy."
 "That is what matters most. But does not one increase one's happiness if the opportunity arises?" 
"That is true," Li Tan agreed.
 "Xinjiang is not well supplied with vital minerals, but road and rail links to Beijing can be improved. When that is done it should be possible to bring your produce to us, and ours to yours. There is also scope for building a petrochemical plant or some other such enterprise." 
 Li Tan wasn't sure he liked the idea of vast factories and housing estates springing up, changing the peaceful rural character of the area until it was like the vast, teeming, suffocating city beyond the grounds of the villa. Yu Chen registered his frown, and spoke reassuringly. "But if Xinjiang is to have autonomy, then it will be for Xinjiang to decide. I would suggest you put the matter to your regional assembly."
 Li Tan nodded. Novice as he was in economic matters, something in him sensed the dangers involved in what Yu Chen was proposing. If the economic links between Xinjiang and the capital were strong enough they could be used by Beijing to maintain effective dominance over the province. Of course a prosperous population was a contented population, one that would give no trouble. That, he suspected, was Beijing's calculation.  
 As they came to the end of their meal, Yu Chen straightened up with a smile. "I think that is all there is to talk about.  But before you leave, I would like to present you with a gift. Excuse me one moment."  
 He got up, went to one of the wooden cabinets and opened a compartment in it. He took something from there, and turned back to Li Tan. The Uighur rose from his seat and went over to inspect the object that sat in the palm of Yu Chen's hand.  
 It was a wooden box, encrusted with jewels, whose lid was carved to resemble the roof of a pagoda, with dragons at the corners. "Please open it," said Yu Chen. 
 Gently Li Tan lifted the lid. At what he saw inside the box his eyes popped in astonishment. "What is that?" he gasped involuntarily.  
 He was even more astonished when it started to move. And it was moving towards him, in a way which seemed disturbingly purposeful. Yu Chen didn't reply to his question, which unsettled him further. Li Tan turned enquiringly to the businessman and as he did so caught a sudden flash of rapid motion at the corner of his eye. Before he could react something cold and metallic was pressing itself against his face. He felt a sharp stinging pain as if someone had dealt him a heavy slap on the cheek.  
 Crying out in anger and disgust, he plucked the object from his face and threw it away from him. "What is this?" he shouted.  
 There was no emotion in Yu Chen's face, apart from the faintest suggestion of a smile. Li Tan struggled to work out what was going on, his unease mounting. Then he frowned, rubbing a hand over his eyes. He felt strange...
 Yu Chen's smile broadened, and his eyes gleamed brightly behind their contact lenses, as Li Tan jerked convulsively and crumpled slowly to the floor at his feet, quite unconscious.

FOUR
On a Sunday afternoon Caroline Kent usually went out somewhere with family and friends; on this particular occasion, however, her plans had been foiled by everyone else's being otherwise engaged (not, she trusted, by design).  So she had decided instead on a few hours keeping in trim at the local leisure centre; a swim followed by a session in the gym, or playing table tennis if she could find a partner. Then out of the blue the call came from an aunt whom she hadn't seen for a while, inviting her to a party held by a local society hostess. It sounded just like the kind of occasion she loved, and whose only drawback was that she couldn't tell the other guests about the more exciting, if usually unsolicited, incidents which occurred to her in the course of her work for International Petroleum Ltd.  
 She got the car out and drove ten or so miles out of town to Esher where Margot Montgomery, for such was their hostess' name, lived in a rather grand Georgian house with extensive lawns sloping gently down to a lake with an ornamental fountain in the shape of a dolphin. Arriving just before noon, she was greeted by Margot herself, a plump matronly figure with assisted-blonde hair, and directed to the spacious living room where tables and chairs had been set up and a buffet lunch was being served. Aunt Sophie and Uncle Derek stood at a table pouring out glasses of lemonade, orange juice or wine. The French windows had been opened to allow the party to spill out onto the patio.
 There were already some two dozen people present, and gradually more guests were turning up. It was obviously meant to be a big occasion; and very much a high society one judging by all the plummy Home Counties accents, although there were a few of what might be called the nouveau riche type; whom Margot, evidently not a snob, seemed to make as welcome as anybody else.  
 On catching sight of her Sophie and Derek came out from behind their table and bustled over to her. She braced herself for being slobbered over.
 "Oh hello darling, how sooper to see you again. Mwah."  Sophie planted a massive wet kiss on Caroline's cheek.  "Goodness, don't you look well." 
 Her uncle enfolded his favourite niece in an affectionate embrace. He was his usual jolly and red-faced self; a little too jolly and red-faced, on this occasion. "Hi, Carrie," he boomed. "How's tricks?"
"I'm fine, Unc. And you?"
"Never better, m'dear, never better. How's your Mum and Dad?" 
"Fine. They send their love."
 "So what have you been up to lately? Haven't set eyes on you since just after you got back from Iraq."
 "Oh, things have been a bit quiet lately. I've mostly been stuck over here. The usual paperwork, the usual conferences. I did manage to get away to Cornwall for a few days in June, though."
 "Yes, you got caught up in that freak storm or whatever it was they had down there, didn't you? I must say you certainly seem to find trouble." Or maybe it finds me, Caroline thought.
 They got her a drink, and after a bit more small talk introduced her to a few of the other guests, leaving her to chat to them while they relieved Margot who had taken over the serving. The routine was usually the same:
"What job do you do?"
 "I work for International Petroleum in the city. I'm their Personnel and PR manager."
"And are you the girl who..."
 Caroline smiled in the benevolently resigned manner she had decided upon for situations like this. "That's me."
 And then of course they wanted her to tell them all about it, which was always difficult because many of the details were either too traumatic to dwell on or, despite the fact they had actually happened, simply unbelievable. She gave her usual edited account.
 Such chores aside, she enjoyed the free, uninhibited flow of conversation and the warm sense of wellbeing that came from the friendly company of other people. She spent some time outside and then, finding the heat too much for her, wandered back indoors. She got herself another drink. Looking for someone new to talk to, she sat down to join a group of people one of whom was Claire, Margot's sister who lived with her and to whom Caroline had been introduced a while before.  Claire had nodded briefly to her and said "Good afternoon" in a bland, formal, terse sort of way.
 She was a few years older than Margot, a fairly well-preserved eighty-three; tall and thin, she walked a little stiffly and her face was seamed and wrinkled in the way you'd expect with people of that age, but her posture was still erect and her manner sharp and alert. Her steel-grey hair was cut in a severe bob, and her equally steel-grey eyes reflected the strength of her personality – though in a way which didn’t put you quite at ease.  
 The conversation seemed to have turned to international politics, and particularly the war in Iraq and its consequences. Some thought the fall of Saddam Hussein an unalloyed blessing, others were unhappy about its long-term implications for the stability of the Middle East and, indeed, of the entire world.
 "I can see why people should be glad he's gone," Caroline said, thinking it best to keep quiet about the exact role she herself had played in the matter. "But you have to admit, it's caused a lot of problems, or it will do. And they're probably going for Syria, and Iran, and China next."
"That's a bit dangerous, I'll admit," the man next to her agreed. 
"But if those countries are sponsoring terrorism," another began.
"China isn't," Caroline said.
"Who said America was going to target China?"
 "It's what a lot of people reckon. Not just the conspiracy theorists. It's obvious, really. China has the capacity to be a superpower, a rival to the States, and America doesn't like that. She likes to think she's giving the world democracy rather than letting it be dominated by a totalitarian state."
"I don't see what's wrong with that."
 "I don't think China wants to dominate anyone except economically. A lot of it boils down to economics, in the end. But about Saddam; I'm not sure he would have been stupid enough to use his weapons of mass destruction against us, or anyone else, regardless of what we'd do to him in return."  Unless the weapons were of a very revolutionary sort, one which allowed him to get away with it; and that was something she and her friends in certain places had taken care of.  "When you consider how imperialistic it's made the West look in the eyes of the Arabs, and the dangers trying to force democracy on people who aren't ready for it, I'm not sure it hasn't done more harm than good. Overall." 
 Claire's head turned towards her. "Are you one of these peace activists?" she asked suspiciously.
"No. But I can see their point of view."
 "Oh, can you," Claire sniffed. "I think they're living in cloud-cuckoo-land. They need to jolly well grow up."  
 A man who seemed to be of Claire's generation nodded in sympathy. "I can tell you, we didn't feel any remorse when the bombs started falling on Germany. I mean, they did it to us."
 He must be somewhat confused, for there was a considerable difference between the two cases. But that wasn't the point. "What, little children?" said Caroline. "They got killed as well, you know."
The man looked uncomfortable. "Well, maybe not the children."
 "There you are," Caroline said triumphantly. She leaned back in her chair, hooking one knee over the other, and took a sip from her glass of wine, in what altogether looked unfortunately like an attitude of regal superiority. 
 "I really do think you have to forgive these things," she asserted.
 Claire's head snapped straight upright, and a light of a kind Caroline didn't care for blazed in her eyes. "Forgive?"  She made a derisive noise. "You don't know what you're talking about, my dear. I tell you, you need your brain examined. If you'd seen half of what I have in my time you wouldn't feel like "forgiving", I can assure you."
 Caroline sat up sharply, the temperature in her immediate vicinity dropping a few degrees.  
 Womanfully she resisted the temptation to tell Claire just what she could do with her proposal of brain surgery. "What job were you in, then?" she asked, wondering if she should tell Claire she had seen a lot more in her relatively short life than anyone might have thought possible.
"I was a nurse."
 "Well, I suppose when you're a nurse you do see one or two nasty things from time to time," Caroline said stiffly.
 Margot had joined the group and was trying to get Claire to shut up, every so often tapping her gently on the shoulder and trying to catch her eye while indicating by expression and body language that she should show restraint. She had once, when someone of the "peace activist" type expressed sentiments similar to Caroline's in her presence, had the girl in tears by the vehemence of her angry response. 
 "I think we should get rid of all these dictators," Claire said. "Look at what they do to their own people. Not to mention Kurds or Jews. I'm glad we sorted out Saddam just as I was glad we sorted out Hitler." She glared at Caroline again. "My generation put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears getting rid of people like that, just so your sort could have the freedom to live as they pleased. You ought to be jolly well grateful."
 Caroline found the struggle to keep her temper becoming more and more of one. "I'm only saying..."  
 "And the Japanese." Claire was continuing as if she hadn't spoken. "Although we didn't get rid of them − ought to have done − only taught them a lesson. You can't trust them, you know."
 The man beside Claire bobbed his head vigorously. "They're a lot less likely to apologise for their crimes than the Germans, on the whole. You never hear a word from them about it − with one or two exceptions."
 "It's their culture," said his wife. "We can't expect them to think the same way as us, whatever the rights and wrongs of the matter.  
 "I suppose if you look at it," she continued reflectively, "you can't ask people to take responsibility for what someone else − another generation − has done. They should express regret of course, be sensitive about it, but that's a different sort of thing."
 Claire looked about to explode at this kind of talk. Not wanting to be a spectator to any more unpleasantness Caroline decided to absent herself. Wandering over to the food table, she plucked a cocktail sausage from its plate by the stick and nibbled at it.
 Out of earshot of the fierce argument now raging between Claire and her companions, with Margot desperately trying to quell it, she stood there with her drink in her hand casting a benignly interested eye over the other guests. From time to time she selected a cucumber sandwich or a cheese straw from the table, always taking care not to eat more than was compatible with maintaining her figure.  
 Time wore on, and the party began to break up. Seeing that there weren't many people left in Caroline's proximity Margot came up to her, hands clasped before the pit of her stomach. "I'm sorry if Claire snapped at you back then," she said awkwardly.
"That's OK," Caroline smiled. "It wasn't your fault, after all."
 "She was never quite the same after her experiences in the war," Margot explained.
"What happened?" said Caroline quietly. 
"She was a prisoner of the Japanese." 
"Oh my God," Caroline replied simply.
Her hostess smiled ruefully. "Yes, quite."
"That must have been awful." Caroline repressed a shudder.
 "Yes. It was. I was lucky to be still at school then, and out of it. What a terrible world we live in." With a brief smile she went to see the departing guests out.
 Caroline hadn't quite finished her drink, and went on  sipping at it while around her people continued to drift towards the door. At length she put it down and went to find her aunt and uncle, deeming it appropriate to have a few words with them before going.  
 As she moved off the figure of Claire Montgomery, gazing out through one of the windows with no particular expression on her face, caught her eye. She knew what she must do. "Um..." she began, hesitantly approaching the older woman. Claire turned and on seeing her gave her a sharp, enquiring look. 
 "I'm sorry we had that little...disagreement just now," Caroline said in a friendly tone of voice. 
 Claire stared for a moment in what looked like puzzlement, then smiled. "Oh, that's alright." Her tone was surprisingly pleasant. 
 Caroline returned the smile. She was about to move away when Claire spoke. "I suppose Margot's told you why I − why I feel so strongly about these things."    
 "Yes, she did. I can't imagine what it must have been like for you."
 "Count yourself lucky for that," muttered the old lady, looking her straight in the eye.
 "I do," said Caroline firmly. "Believe me." She pursed her lips indecisively. "I don't suppose you want to talk about it."
 Claire seemed to hesitate. She turned her face slightly away. "I was a nurse," she began. "In the military hospital in Singapore at the time the colony fell; that was in 1942." As the memories came back her head slowly sank onto her chest, her voice dropping with it. "The whole thing came as such a shock...we'd never expected the Japanese to take the place so easily, in such a short time. We didn't credit them with that much intelligence. And then there was the way we were treated.
 "First of all everyone in the colony was rounded up and the men and women separated and sent to different camps. Some of the men were just taken off and shot.  
 "We went through three years of absolute hell in the camp.  The sheer humiliation of it...being made to bow to the Emperor, and punished if we didn't do it properly...having to salute a Japanese whenever you saw him, and getting beaten if you didn't though he might have been a couple of hundred yards away and you hadn't noticed him...once I and another girl were tied to posts and left out in the sun for hours, till we were both half-dead from the heat. I can't even remember what we'd done to deserve it."
 Caroline knew all about this kind of thing, indeed she'd been in a similar situation herself, not so long ago. It made no difference to the growing anger and disgust she was feeling, and which showed in her expression.
 "Another time a soldier made me kneel down and put a hatchet to the back of my neck. I really thought he was going to cut my head off." For a long time Claire was rigid with fear at the memory. Feeling once again the touch of the cold, sharp steel blade against her flesh.  
 "Then I felt the pressure cease. I stayed where I was because he hadn't told me to get up and I knew I would be hit if I did. Then he did tell me, and as I stood up I saw he was laughing and so was the officer who was with him. The officer hadn't told him to do it but he just went ahead anyway because he knew it would be alright.
 "The living conditions were ghastly. Flies and rats everywhere...no proper medicine, or toilets...and precious little food. Much of the time we were half-starved. Just a bowl of rice in the morning and in the evening, and sometimes not even that. Often we had to eat the rats instead. 
 "Whenever we complained to the Japanese they said they'd do something about it, but never did. A lot of us died. And the more sense of companionship we felt in our suffering, the more it hurt when someone passed away. 
 "The commandant of the camp was a fellow called Fujiori, Kendo Fujiori. He could have stopped it all if he'd tried but he didn't.
 "And I still haven't told you the worst of it. Fujiori had taken a fancy to me, and one night he ordered me to be brought to him in his office. He made me take my clothes off. You can imagine what I felt when I realised what was going to happen. But I guessed I'd be beaten or worse if I resisted.  
 "He − he called all the other officers to come and look.  There was me standing there naked with them all drooling over it. Fujiori looked me up and down with a gleam in his eyes that haunts me to this day." She fell silent, and Caroline saw she was literally frozen stiff with horror. She extended a hand, resting her fingers lightly on the old lady's wrist.
 "Then he just leaped on me...like an animal. He got me down on the floor and..." Claire swallowed, and when finally she could bring herself to speak her voice was barely more than a whisper. 
"And when he'd finished, the others all had their turn."
Caroline's eyes were blazing. 
 "We were all so innocent about sex in those days. You can imagine the shock." Claire allowed herself a weak smile, enough to lighten the mood somewhat. "We stood it well, of course. That was the thing to do. But it left its mark; it couldn't fail to.
 "Of course they hated white people, thought we were an inferior race. He wanted to humiliate a white woman and for some reason he was determined to pick on me. He liked my looks but as a person he despised me."  
 She straightened up with a weary sigh. "He was convicted of war crimes in 1945...served twenty years." Her eyes glittered. "He should have got more. I'm the one who has to serve the life sentence. The memory of what he did...it's affected me more than anything has him. It just isn't fair."
 As Caroline was later to learn, Claire had no husband and no children. Because after what had happened to her, at such a young age, the very thought of sex permanently revolted her. The one marriage she did contract was not a success, because after just a few weeks of wedlock her husband had found her cold and remote, untouchable. Because she had not really recovered from what had happened, whatever she might have thought.  
 "I actually got pregnant by him at one stage − Fujiori. I would have had the child, after all it was mine, but he didn't want anyone to know what he'd done so he made me have an abortion. It was done crudely, messily, painfully. I was lucky to survive; he told me if I spoke to anyone about what had happened I wouldn't."
 "Public toilets, they called us," her anger flaring up again. "Public toilets."  
 She subsided a little. "And he never apologised for what he did. He never said sorry. Never expressed the slightest remorse for all the damage he did to my life."
 Slowly she started to move away, and after a moment  Caroline followed her. Claire didn't seem to mind. She led her down the corridor to what was obviously her bedroom, where she pointed to a framed photograph on the mantelpiece. "That's him there."
 My God, Caroline thought, she keeps his picture with her all the time, night and day. But how can she possibly bear to look at him after everything he did to her?  
 Fujiori's was a hard, rigid, mask-like face with narrow glittering eyes totally devoid of feeling, of compassion. Of any recognisably human emotion. She scowled back at it. What are you looking at, you bastard? 
 Beside the photo was one of Claire; or rather the Claire of 1942, proud and smiling in her new nurse's uniform, and by no means unattractive. Claire as she had been before...before... "Of course, you're young," Claire went on. "You can't possibly understand what it was like in those years. How hard it is to...to forgive."
"Some of them have apologised for it," Caroline said.
"He never did," Claire snorted.
 "If he could just say sorry," she said loudly, becoming emotional again. "If he could just say sorry for all the...all the..." Her voice tailed away as she gave up the struggle to put her feelings into the right words.
 "I suppose you can't forgive unless someone does," Caroline suggested. "When I was talking about forgiveness back there, I don't suppose it came out quite the way I meant it to.  It's not something you can do lightly...without conditions."
"No," said Claire quietly. "It isn't."
 Her old joints creaking a little, she sat down on the bed. "People say I'm embittered, well I'm not. That's all I want − for him to apologise. For the way he ruined my life.
 "I wrote to him once. Went to all the trouble to have the letter translated into Japanese. Never received a reply."
"Is he still alive?"
 "As far as I know. I know where he lives and I've often thought of going to see him personally, but I don't think I'd be responsible for my actions."
"It's probably not a good idea," Caroline agreed.
 "I don't suppose it ought to matter now." She shook her head wearily. "No, it's too late. You just have to accept it's a harsh world and that people will do wicked things and never get punished for them.
 "I try not to feel bitter but I just can't trust the Japanese. Not one little bit. Look at what they did in China.  And they still think they're superior to us. To everyone."
 For a while the pair of them were silent. Then Caroline gave a sudden intake of breath. "Well," she said awkwardly, "I must be off. I'm sorry about...about, you know. Nice to have met you." They shook hands cordially enough. "Goodbye, my dear," Claire said.
 Caroline left her sitting alone on the bed and gazing into space, lost in her thoughts – who could guess what they were?  
 No, there could be no forgiveness without confession, she told herself again later as she set off on the drive home. And it had been Desmond Tutu who had said that; a Christian archbishop.
 What bitterness, what lasting hatred and poison, the Second World War had engendered in all its theatres. Whether the ultimate toll in terms of death, or other human damage, in the Far East was as great as it had been in Europe she didn't know but in kind it could be no less horrible.
 As a matter of fact, she suddenly remembered, she would be in that part of the world herself shortly. She had some business to do there.

Derek Bridger lived out west, in Shepherds' Bush. Every evening he drove eastward into the neon jungle of the city proper to check out the clubs he owned or had an interest in, and take advantage of what they had to offer, not only in the way of food and drink. 
 Beside his apartment in the Bush, which served as his principal residence, he also owned several swanky properties in the West End. Right now he was at his flat in Soho, preparing for another night on the town. He stood before a tall mirror in one of its luxuriously furnished rooms, checking that his Savile Row suit had been immaculately cleaned and pressed and adjusting his brightly-coloured kipper tie. He was now well into his fifties but still an imposing, and intimidating, figure. His neatly groomed silver hair gave him a distinguished appearance. In contrast his face was coarse and lumpy, with a strip of scar tissue down one cheek, the legacy of a knife wound sustained in a gangland turf war some years ago. And he was a big man, with a stocky muscular body he kept in trim by jogging and weight-lifting.    
 He heard the doorbell ring, and scowled in irritation. He went downstairs and peered through the peephole he'd had made in the door when he bought the flat.  
 He saw two men; Chinese men, or at least he assumed because of their Oriental appearance that they were Chinese. Chances are he was right, there were a lot of them about this part of London. The pair were small in stature like most of their race, but tough-looking. 
 "Yeah, what do you want?" he snapped into the intercom. He had grown up in an area where you could only survive by going on the offensive. 
 "Mr Bridger, we would like to make a proposal to you." The man's voice was soft, with the characteristic sing-song rhythms of the Orient, and its tone polite, reasonable. "There is something we need you to do for us." 
"You wanna make a deal?"
"Perhaps we can go inside and talk about it."
 Bridger considered this, a dark frown creasing his brow. He normally kept out of the way of the Chinese, as they did his, although gossip about his activities would inevitably have spread throughout the whole of gangland. He hadn't done anything to upset them, that he could recall, so they couldn't be out to carve him up or anything like that. He might as well see what this was about.
 "Yeah, OK," he grunted, and undid the latch. As he stepped back to let them in he kept his eyes fixed on them warily.
 "So what is it, then?" he demanded as they moved to the centre of the room.
 One of the Orientals dug inside the pocket of his suit and took out a photograph, which he handed to Bridger. It showed a young man in his teens with a squarish face and a shock of unruly fair hair.
"What about him?" Bridger grunted. "Is it a wet job? A snatch?"
The man nodded. "Yes, we want you to kidnap him."
"Who is he? What's he done?"
 "Let us say his family have grievously offended our employer. They must be punished."
 Bridger stared at the Chinese, if that was what he was, for a long time. He had few loyalties but one of them was to his own race. Although he saw nothing wrong in the way he made his living, he wouldn't have bothered much if the young man – in fact he looked barely more than a boy − had been involved in some criminal activity. Then, he would have understood. That a Chinese should be asking him to kidnap, and possibly kill, a white person who was not a criminal offended his sense of what was right and proper.  
 His hackles rose. "No way," he snarled. "You can fuck off out of here, you little yellow bastard."
 The Oriental's eyes glittered briefly, but otherwise he showed no anger. He smiled coldly. "Supposing, Mr Bridger, that we tell the police about the various criminal activities you are still involved in? That you are a pimp who forces girls into prostitution so you can live off their earnings, and uses violence on them if they complain."
"You do and you'll regret it, Chinky," Bridger snapped back.  
 The Chinese ignored the insult. "We will take the risk. If you want a war between our organisation and yours, that is what you will have."
 There was a pause while Bridger considered the situation.  Was it really worth making that much of a fuss about? After all, he'd never bothered that much about harming innocent lives, whoever's they were, if there was a profit to be made from it. And it would save him a great deal of trouble if he did agree to do the job.
He thought for a bit longer. "All right. I'll expect a fair cut for doing it."
"We will see you are rewarded handsomely, Mr Bridger."
"You'd better," he muttered darkly. "So, give me the gen."
    
*

During term time the pupils of Charlesfield School, Somerset, lived in thirty or so "houses", properties which the school had bought or leased over a period of time. Some of them were situated on the actual school campus, others in remote rural areas some distance from it, necessitating a daily two-way bus journey. The Briars, as this one was known, was a sprawling grey building dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, built from blocks of the local stone with a red-tiled roof. Ivy and wisteria clung to the walls and encroached around the edges of the windows. Bridger's men had rented a holiday cottage in the area, telling the agent they would be there for a week or so, maybe two. The equipment they needed for the operation was transferred to the cottage to be stored there. They'd driven past The Briars a couple of times during the week, familiarising themselves with its layout and surroundings. 
 Now they were ready to make their move. It was two o'clock in the morning, and all the boys would be snugly tucked up in bed, as would their houseparents, as the tutor in charge of the house and his wife were known, 
 They turned off the main road down the long and narrow lane that led to the building, cutting their speed. There were no other vehicles in sight. The driver slowed the vehicle and pulled into the kerb. Dressed entirely in black, their faces hidden by balaclava masks, the two men got out of the car and padded softly towards the house.  
 The night was silent apart from the distant rumbling of a car engine on the main road almost a mile away, and other than themselves nothing moved that was larger than a fox or a cat.
 They foresaw no difficulty in carrying out the operation.  They had done this kind of thing before, many times; they were professionals. 
 It did not take them long to pick the lock on the outer door. They could have got in by the fire escape on the west side of the building, but the metal treads might make a noise as they climbed it.
 Shining their torches ahead of them, they crept through the house in their rubber-soled shoes, moving silently in and out of its thirty or so rooms. Each of the boys was given a quick dose of the knock-out gas, enough to render him unconscious while they got on with the job. They did the same to the housemaster and his wife. The wife stirred at their approach and sat up sharply, mouth open to shout for her husband, but a quick whiff of the gas caused her to slump back onto the pillow, eyes closing. 
 They then returned to one of the dormitories, which was occupied by four boys two of them in bunk beds. The occupant of the bed furthest from the door was lifted gently from it and slung over the shoulder of one of the men. They carried him downstairs and then out to the car. Opening the boot, they laid him gently inside.   
 There followed a drive through the night in the direction of London, a journey which ended at a warehouse just beyond the perimeter of Heathrow Airport. By the evening of the following day Jeffrey Harriman would be a very long way from home.  

    

FIVE
Defence Research Facility, Kuanchung, North Korea 
Colonel Pak Lin-Kwo stood watching the rows of technicians in their plain white tunics as they toiled in disciplined, robotic fashion at their workbenches, in the clear white light which bathed the cavernous interior of the laboratory.  Manufacturing, the equipment vital to his country's atomic weapons programme.  
 His expression was benignly proprietorial as he observed them at their work. In a way he couldn't quite explain, he was proud of what was being done here while still nurturing serious doubts about its wisdom.  
 Nuclear tension was on the increase again in the western Pacific. The US was making threatening noises once more, his country responding in kind. Colonel Pak was a loyal servant of the state, but secretly the thought of what things might be leading to filled him with dread. 
 What does our one small nation think is the point of acquiring its own nuclear arsenal? he wondered. Ought it really to matter to us whether we have the bomb? Of course if you have nuclear weapons, it makes you a big state. People will listen to you. But if North Korea could do it so could anyone, and that would make the world a highly dangerous place. The more weapons of mass destruction there were the greater the likelihood of something going wrong − a misunderstanding or an accident − and resulting in a holocaust which would affect many countries, his own perhaps included.
 Was it really his leaders' intention to threaten the world with nuclear war unless America acquiesced in the forcible reunification of North and South Korea into a single Communist state, followed perhaps by the invasion and conquest of Japan? They must know what the consequences would be if she refused to do so. For she certainly would refuse.  And whatever happened, Pak couldn't believe his government would be prepared in the end to press the button if it didn't get what it wanted. In which case, what was the point of it all. Self-defence? But what from? Mere lust for power? If the latter, then it wasn’t a good reason for heightening international tension, still less for actually unleashing Armageddon. In the end it was difficult to fathom what his leader, Kim Jong-Il, who after all was notoriously mad if not perhaps in a criminal sense, actually intended.   
 The ringing of his mobile phone interrupted the Colonel’s  thoughts. "Pak," he answered.
 It was the main gate. "General Chung has just arrived, Sir.  He will see you in your office." General Chung Kuan Hee, head of the country's armed forces and also its Minister of Defence, often made surprise visits to the base just to make sure that security there was as tight as it should be.
 Muttering his thanks, Pak pocketed the phone and marched briskly away. Leaving the laboratory through a side door, he strode across the compound to the central administrative block. He found General Chung already waiting for him in the office, standing facing him in the centre of the room with hands tightly clasped behind him. A big man for an Asiatic, and powerfully built, Chung was an impressive figure in his red-braided greatcoat and peaked cap with the badge bearing the red star insignia in its centre.
 Closing the door behind him, Pak stood smartly to attention, saluting with enough force to knock his brains out. "What can I do for you, Sir?" he asked.
 Returning the salute, General Chung explained his needs to Pak. When he had finished speaking, Pak found himself staring at his superior in puzzlement. "May I ask what is the reason for this, Sir?"  
 Why did they want to take material out of the base? Had there been a complete change in the government's policy, or was this part of a subterfuge aimed at deceiving the Americans as to their true intentions? 
 "I can't tell you, Pak. It is a matter of high policy, you understand? That is why I wanted to see you here with only the two of us present."     
 Pak nodded submissively. "Do you have authorisation, Sir?" he asked as a matter of course. 
 "Certainly. Here it is." The General reached inside one of the capacious pockets of his greatcoat.  
 He took something out. Pak stared down at the object in amazement, then jumped back with a startled yelp as it flew through the air towards him. He felt the cold metal press against his cheek, making him shiver, then a sharp pain like a bee sting and finally a plunging sensation as he sank rapidly into unconsciousness, crumpling to the floor at General Chung's feet.
 An hour later a truckful of steel flasks full of weapons-grade plutonium left the establishment, travelling along the access road to the main highway to turn left at the junction and head due west towards the country's border with China.

The burnt-out skeleton of the Porsche nestled in a dip next to where the track from the road ended, hemmed in on three sides by dense bushes and clumps of nettles. Peering in through the window, Detective Inspector Derek Slate saw only twisted metal and heaps of black ash, telling him nothing that he wouldn't have to wait to hear about from Forensics.  At least there wasn't a body inside, as they had originally feared.
 Nodding briefly, Slate straightened up and turned to the man standing beside him. DS Mike Thompson was a solidly built Afro-Caribbean in his thirties. "You've interviewed the witness?"  
 "Yes. He walks in these woods a lot, and he swears it wasn't there a couple of days ago."
 "A couple of days ago..." Slate made a quick calculation.  It'd be about the time of the kidnapping.
"Do you think this could be the car they used, then?"
 "It's possible. They could have dumped this one and torched it, then transferred the boy to another vehicle. It's what I'd have done." 
 "He also says he saw two men running away from the spot, but he didn't get a good look at them."
 They stood for a moment in the relative quiet of the sunlit wood, listening to the birds chirping merrily in the trees above them. The idyllic peacefulness of their surroundings tugged at Slate’s heart as he considered that the thoughts of Jeffrey Harriman's family would be anything but sunny right now.
 Normally based in London, Slate had been asked to head the investigation because he had dealt successfully with kidnap cases in the past, and because the Harriman family were considered important enough for the Yard to be involved.  They weren't quite VIPs but they did have friends in “high places”, and the patronage system that in days gone by had kept the upper classes entrenched in their dominant position within society still operated to some extent. Better safe than sorry had been the drill. "We’ll just have to keep our eyes open for any more information."
"How are the family taking it?"
 "There's only the mother, really. She's currently under sedation. He's all she's got these days, so I gather.  They've no other children and her husband died of cancer a few years ago."
 "Well, best to let Forensics get on with it," Slate remarked, and they stepped back to let the white-overalled men and women cluster round the remains of the Porsche.  Further down the road the barrier had already been erected to keep out inquisitive members of the public. Nearby, shuffling forward slowly on their hands and knees, a team of officers were combing the forest floor square inch by square inch for clues.  
 "What do you reckon, Guv?" Thompson asked once they were back in the car. "There's something odd about this business. I'm not sure how, but I tell you I can feel it."
 "Well, the main reason why someone might want to kidnap the boy is money. They're a pretty rich lot, though not on the same scale as the Vesteys or the Rothschilds. I'm a bit worried that we've had no ransom demand yet, but there's still time. Meanwhile there's little we can do until the clues start to turn up. If they do."
 Slate fell silent, his head drooping a little. Thompson knew what he was thinking. Although the successful outcome of each case he'd been involved with boosted his confidence that he could deal with the next, Slate nonetheless confessed to being filled with apprehension when it came. He had been lucky so far. But luck couldn’t always be relied upon. 
"Have you thought any more about the anti-terrorist job?" Thompson asked.  
"I think I'd like to do it. And if that's OK, I'll make sure you go over with me." 
 Thompson smiled. "That'd be great, Guv." He had been worried about losing the close relationship he had built up with Slate over the several years they had been associated, having to adjust to a new superior with whom he might not be able to achieve the same kind of rapport.
 Slate's face clouded. "I just don't like to think of more poor sods getting kidnapped, and maybe done in, while I'm away doing something else."
"Guess being blown up is worse," remarked Thompson.
 "Maybe," Slate muttered. "But if you're dead you're dead. You might even have gone to a better world. The people you leave behind have to go through a living death, which is far worse. It's like that with kidnap cases as much as it is with murder. Especially if the one kind of business turns into the other." And even if the victims were from “posh” families whose way of life Slate found he didn’t understand and who he sometimes, for one reason or another, felt little sympathy for.
 "Yeah, I'll take the job," he said, showing by his manner and tone of voice that he had made the decision there and then. "But I'd like to see this one out first." He paused for a moment to look back at the figures in white swarming over the gutted Porsche. "If I can." 

Gansu, China
The light aircraft taxied slowly to a halt, its engine running down. A moment later the cabin door was swung open and the steps lowered. Together with another Chinaman, dressed like him in a Western-style business suit, Yu Chen stepped down from the plane and set off towards the vast sprawling building which stood before them.  
 A number of people, representing half a dozen races and nationalities, had gathered on the landing strip to receive Yu Chen. They made the sign of respectful greeting as the two men came up to them.  
 Chen responded with a gracious nod to each of the party.  "All is well?" he enquired, addressing a tall dark-haired European man with bushy eyebrows.  
"The project is within a few weeks of completion."
 "It matters not how long it takes exactly," Yu Chen told him. "No-one suspects what we are doing. Are our clients pleased with our progress?"
 "They have seen over the building. I believe they were most impressed."  
 "Good. Now I should like to see for myself. But first let us wait for our guest to arrive. He should not be long."
 As he spoke they heard the chattering sound of helicopter rotors. They watched the black insect-like shape grow gradually larger in the sky. It banked, hovered above the airfield for a moment and then slowly descended. It settled on the tarmac, the door opened and swung down to become a ramp, and the imam Li Tan emerged into view. 
 As he reached them Yu Chen nodded briefly to him, and the Uighur nodded back. "All is well?" the Chinaman asked.  
"All is well," said Li Tan.
"Come with us." It was an order more than an invitation.
 The steel shutter over the entrance to the complex was open.  As the party walked towards it Yu Chen drew close to the dark-haired Caucasian and spoke quietly in his ear. "Are you having any problems with the elixir?"
"No, it's working alright."
"Good. It will be some time before you need another supply." 
 As they entered the complex the mobile phone in Yu Chen's pocket rang, and with a brief gesture of apology he answered it. After a moment he moved away from his companions so that they could not hear the person at the other end. "I see.  Continue."
 They waited, a certain tension filling the antechamber in which they stood as they caught the vibrations emanating from Yu Chen. "You have done well to inform me of this," they heard the businessman say. "I will take the necessary action."
 He turned slowly to face the man who had accompanied him to the complex. "It would seem you have some explaining to do, Cheng Hui."
 The others saw Cheng Hui stiffen, his face freezing into a mask of fear at the menace in the cold whispering voice. With an effort he recovered his composure. "What do you mean, Yu Chen?" he asked calmly, affecting a look of polite bafflement. 
 "I mean," said Yu Chen, "that you have been overheard calling someone from my Beijing office to tell them certain details of my affairs. Your manner was furtive, showing that you had not permission to release that information. Have you betrayed me, Cheng Hui?" 
 The others moved swiftly to encircle Cheng Hui, blocking all the routes to the door. Yu Chen stepped slowly up to him, and their eyes met.
 "Tell me who you were calling, and you may yet save your life. It is less wasteful to turn an enemy into a servant than it is to destroy them."
 Unafraid, Cheng Hui returned his gaze. "I will not be your slave," he said fiercely. "Ever. Nor will I betray those who employ me, whatever you might do."
 "Your loyalty to them is commendable. But you forget I have ways of forcing you to serve me regardless of your own desires.
 "However," Yu Chen mused, "such methods do not always work, besides which they have the disadvantage of reducing initiative. I think I will make an example of you instead."
 He nodded to the two huge, slab-faced Mongols who stood by the door with arms folded, and gave an order in their native tongue. With surprising speed for their size they went for Cheng Hui, their big hands reaching out to grasp him. He made a dash for the door but several of Yu Chen's accomplices caught him and held him fast. Then he was thrashing about frenziedly in a desperate bid to break free as the Mongols dragged him away down the corridor.
 Yu Chen and his subordinates watched them disappear with their captive. The sounds of his struggling gradually receded. Then they heard the scream as Cheng Hui saw what his fate was to be. It was a high-pitched, wavering cry of pure terror. Then came more sounds of struggle, which were drowned by Cheng Hui's shrieks as they rose to maximum pitch. The cries grew fainter, like the sound of a train as it vanishes into the distance, then suddenly ceased as if a switch had been thrown to cut them off. Silence fell. 
 Briefly, Yu Chen's eyes swept round the room and everyone in it. The message in them was clear. Now you have seen what happens to those who betray me.  
 Then the party moved on as if nothing had happened, none of its members displaying the slightest trace of emotion.  

Mary Jean Patterson burst out through the doors of the talent agency known as Starrs and set off down the street with a spring in her step and a dreamy smile on her face, feeling every inch Queen Of The World. After years of gruelling, fruitless toil and crushing boredom her life had finally taken a turn for the better.
 It was a common apprehension that everyone in America was wealthy. In fact there were class distinctions, and a considerable gap between rich and poor, in the States just as there were anywhere else. Mary Jean in fact came from a moderately wealthy suburb of San Fancisco but her performance at school had been erratic and she had eventually left with very poor qualifications and little chance of going to university. There followed a succession of poorly paid and extremely boring jobs, in fast food restaurants, hotdog stalls, and most recently a sewage works where she was treated by the management as if she were no better than the product they made their living from. 
 Eventually she had become aware that she was stuck in a rut and that something needed to be done about it. She deserved better than this. She wanted a decent standard of living, and she wanted to be appreciated.
 Mary Jean Patterson had Barbie doll looks, but that didn't automatically guarantee success. You had to have something else, a quality which Mary Jean, not being particularly conceited, had begun to suspect she lacked. Talent. She was sure she must have it somewhere but where exactly, and how to bring it out, she had no idea. She wanted to be a dancer and a singer, or maybe an actress, and had been to lots of auditions but the response had always been on the lines of "thankyou, Miss Patterson, we'll let you know." They never did.  
 When she saw the ad in Music Maker, which she'd happened to be idly glancing through one day during lunch break, for singers and dancers her eyes immediately lit up. Essentially what it was offering was a handsome payment for cabaret tours of the Far East which took in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Philippines. She could remain with the troupe as long as she liked. If no permanent career was forthcoming out there, and they were sure it would be, she could at least return home with enough money to keep her in clover for a long time, with no need to worry about looking for work.  
 It seemed to offer a way out. If she couldn't get anywhere in her home country, maybe she'd have better luck overseas. The advert invited her to call a representative of the firm, giving a name and contact number. She rang the number immediately to arrange an interview, her mind more or less already made up to accept the offer. To go overseas seemed exotic and exciting. It was that, plus the money, which decided her in the end. And maybe there would be fame, too...world fame...
 The agent, Frank Goddard, couldn't have been nicer. And he was offering her a chance to develop her talents, a chance no-one else had seemed prepared to give her. He told her American girls who could sing and dance were much in demand in the Far East.   
 She did an audition and was flattered to find that they seemed to like her. Indeed, the whole business was over in just a few minutes. Afterwards Goddard told her to turn up at the airport on the 27th, in a week's time. She would be met at the entrance by a representative of the company who would also find her accommodation while she was with the troupe.  The cost of her flight and all other expenses would be paid by the company. She was to receive the cheque through the post the very next morning. 
 "OK," finished Goddard. "Well, we'll see you soon. Meantime take care of yourself, honey."
"Sure will, Frank. 'Bye now."
 As soon as the door closed behind her the agent picked up the phone and started to dial. A few streets across town, at an establishment called the Club Gigolo, a man named Donny DiMarco was sprawled in a cane chair at the table set aside for him, his Versace suit with diamond cufflinks straining almost to button-bursting point as his massive paunch heaved with each intake of breath. In the background scantily dressed women, some white and some Asian, were dancing energetically on a stage while others were moving in on the male customers and chatting them up, to eventually lead them off through a side door. Di Marco sat in his chair observing the proceedings and from time to time puffing at the huge cigar, looking like an enormous fat slug, which was jammed in his mouth in a fashion resembling some obscene act of fellatio.
His cellphone rang and he answered it with a curt "Yeah?"
 "Donny?" said Frank Goddard, in a harsh, jarring tone of voice his clients did not normally hear him use. "Good news for your friends in Tokyo. I think I've got another one for them." 

Jeffrey Harriman shook his head fiercely, struggling to clear his befuddled senses. His head pounded furiously the way it did whenever he had a hangover; and that was strange. He hadn't drunk any alcohol last night. School rules expressly forbade it, and in any case he wouldn't have touched the stuff during term time. It was to such good behaviour that he owed the high regard in which the authorities at Charlesfield held him, and his position as a House − soon to be School − prefect and Captain of Football.
 He was somewhat surprised not to find himself in his dorm at the Briars. Instead he was slumped in a chair in a strange room decorated in a style that certainly wasn't English. 
 A sharp pang of alarm gripped him. The only reason he might have for being here was if someone had kidnapped him. Unless this was some stupid practical joke his friends were playing?
 He became aware that there were three people in the room, standing before him. Their features were Oriental. The chap in the middle somehow gave the impression of being the one in charge. His appearance was certainly striking, and Jeffrey found it added to the feeling of disorientation that mingled with his fear.  
"Why am I here?" he demanded. "What's going on?"
 The boss Chinaman gave a slight nod of the head, then spoke.  His voice had a curiously ageless quality. "You are here, Jeffrey Harriman, because an ancestor of yours betrayed me. Your great-grandfather, in fact."
 "Well, I'm sorry to hear that," said Jeffrey politely. This can't be real, he thought dizzily.  
 He felt a sudden chill. This man's motive for kidnapping him was revenge. So what was he going to do? 
 "Therefore you must die. Justice demands it." Jeffrey went rigid, paling in horror. 
 "No!" he shouted automatically. He tried to get up but his legs crumpled beneath him and he fell back into the chair. They'd obviously injected him with something to knock him out, and it was still affecting his nervous system.  
 "My great-grandad?" The absurdity of it suddenly hit him.  "You kidnapped me because of that?" It seemed childish, spiteful, as well as lunatic.
 "In China, my young friend, family is all-important. As is honour. To betray trust is the most terrible crime a man can commit. And a wrong does not cease to be a wrong because it is many years old. To be merciful, even make concessions, to an opponent is acceptable while both sides are acting honourably. But if one does not, the other may consider himself exonerated from the proper conventions. And if he fails to avenge himself, to punish the offence, he loses self-respect.
 "Your great-grandfather is unfortunately beyond my reach, since he is dead. But you remain, the last of his line. There must be atonement, vengeance, for the betrayal. Your death will be the only kind that is possible for me now."
 Jeffrey swallowed. He made a determined attempt to keep his voice steady and control the violent trembling of his body. "Do you want to tell me the full story?" 
 "It is right that you should know." Jeffrey listening with a mixture of fascination, despite his fear at his situation, and incredulity the man explained who he was and why he had gone to the trouble of organising the kidnapping. "I have found no evidence to suggest other than that your relative betrayed me." 
 "It's not right that I should suffer because of what someone else did," Jeffrey protested angrily.  
 A genuine sadness permeated the Chinaman's voice. Of course Jeffrey was in no mood to appreciate it. "I have no option.  I have much to do, and I cannot do it if I am not respected. I will lose all authority. 
 "Providing you do not struggle, your death will be quick and painless," intoned the silken voice. The two henchmen came forward and took him by the arms, lifting him to his feet.  He found himself held fast between them. By now his strength was back and he began to struggle, but the men were big and powerfully built and he was quite powerless to break free.
 The door opened silently and a fourth Chinaman entered the room. In one hand he carried a sharply pointed stiletto. He moved swiftly and silently towards Jeffrey, as the young Englishman continued to struggle hopelessly.
 Jeffrey might face death bravely, but that didn't mean he wanted to die if it could be avoided. Frantically he searched for some way of persuading his captor to spare him. 
 He found it just as the man with the stiletto raised the slender, gleaming instrument to plunge it into his throat. "How do you know it was my great-grandfather who betrayed you?" he gasped desperately. "It could have been someone else. There's a box in the attic of our house which he said we shouldn't open for fifty years. There may be something in there that says what really happened."
 Jeffrey saw the boss man stiffen, his expression changing.  He barked out an order to his henchmen. The one with the stiletto stepped back, while the other two kept a firm hold on Jeffrey.  
 When the boss next spoke his voice was gentle, almost kind. "You may just have saved your life, my young friend. You say the box is in the attic?"
 "That's right. A tin box." His face twisted in anguish.  "Don't hurt my Mum. Please." 
 "Do not worry. She will not be harmed if it can be avoided. But you may still die if the contents of the box do not exonerate your ancestor from blame in this matter. 
 "And if I do spare you, I must inform you that you will not be allowed to leave here. Not until my plans are complete."
"And what are your plans?" Jeffrey asked, flatly.
 "If I were to tell you, it might then be disastrous for me if you were to escape."
"So I'm going to die here of curiosity, then."
 "You will not die," said the man before him. "You will serve me instead. As I said, I have much to do." He explained what Jeffrey's immediate fate was to be. The boy stared dazedly back at him, a part of him still not convinced any of this was happening.  
 At a command from his master the Chinese with the stiletto put it away and took something from a pocket of the plain overall he was wearing. As he moved towards Jeffrey again the boy saw it was a hypodermic needle.  
 It somehow felt silly to struggle. After all, this was a lot better than the alternative. 
 He felt his sleeve rolled up, then the point of the needle pressing against his bare forearm. He started as it sank in.  The slight pain he felt was the last conscious sensation he was to know for some considerable time. 


SIX
As Samira hurried down the crowded street in her all-enveloping, except for the face, black chador, clutching her text books to her chest in the manner of any young University student, she couldn't help thinking that everyone's eyes were on her. After a while she had got used to the feeling but there were still times when her underlying nervousness and unease rose to the surface. As a minority you were always vulnerable, and since the area where she lived was predominantly white and non-Muslim she felt particularly exposed in her distinctive black garb. In her own culture, the purpose of this mode of dress was to avoid being noticed. The less of her flesh was visible, the less she would attract unwelcome attention from the male sex. Not all Muslim women went so far as to wear the chador; some simply dressed in a reasonably modest fashion, covering up the skin of their arms and legs with perhaps a scarf around the neck as well. But Samirah felt safer this way. 
 Its tendency to make her noticeable in a non-Muslim environment was its big disadvantage. If something or other set them off, she thought, and I was in among them like this, they could tear me to pieces. And although I am a good Muslim and have faith that Allah will reward me in Heaven for living a virtuous life, I suppose the thought of death is still frightening. Perhaps in the end it is not myself for whom I am afraid; I do not want my family to grieve for me.  
 As she crossed the square to the flat where she lived she heard someone call out in a raucous, bellowing voice. "Oy, you..." She didn't catch the rest, for the voice faded out of earshot as she moved on, but it had sounded like the prelude to a burst of abuse. It might not have been; perhaps they hadn't been addressing her at all. But whenever something like that happened, that was what she invariably thought. It might be that her inner anxieties were causing her to imagine it.    
 The worst of her fears had dispelled after a time, but there remained the sense that she was living on a knife edge. If things went badly wrong either people would hurt her or they would shun her which would be almost as terrible. She had no wish to be forced into a Muslim ghetto, a subculture that looked only inward, all links with the wider world cut off. So much would be closed to her if she was. She couldn't imagine living anywhere else but Britain, and certainly didn't want to. Despite its faults the quality of life there, materially and in other ways, was so much better than in Algeria, the country from which her family had emigrated a few years before. What she dreaded was having to choose between that life and her safety. The psychological shock of losing the former would be devastating, crushing her both physically and spiritually. She did not want to be living in constant fear of racist attacks but nor did relish being denied all the fun of living in the West, the opportunities for culture and leisure which its technology provided, and the company of her friends (for most of Samirah's friends, as it happened, were not Muslims).  
 The atrocities of 11th September 2001 had been the cause of as much fear and trepidation to Muslims as they had among Westerners. It had been inevitable, human nature being what it was, that some people would react violently to the outrages, attacking and abusing ordinary Muslims. In America there had been deaths. Generally there took place an increase in cases of racial abuse, with Muslim women being spat at in the streets; Samira had experienced that sort of thing herself several times. 
 That was one reason why it was essential for them to go out of their way to condemn the atrocities. Although the condemnation was sincere − where most of her co-religionists were concerned, anyway − it was as much the product of political necessity, she thought with a certain pang of guilt. 
 One part of her, though she was ashamed to admit it, inevitably felt a certain satisfaction that America had had such a devastating blow struck against it, considering its arrogance, its insensitivity towards the Islamic world, its usually unqualified support for Israel despite the grievous plight of the Palestinians. Not that she wouldn't have tried to prevent such an atrocity if she could have. Her feelings on the matter would to some extent always be ambivalent.  
 It was a wonder things had not been even worse, considering the enormity of what had been done on that occasion, its sheer callous inhumanity, the sense of chilling horror which still lingered in people's minds. It proved to her the essential tolerance of Westerners and their society, and was one reason why she liked living in the West. It strengthened the affection she felt towards it despite all its shortcomings. So once again she dismissed any tendency to celebrate 11/9/01 from her mind.
 At the same time, Samira sensed that tolerance could not be stretched beyond a certain limit. She was sure that even now, some time after the event, people were suspicious of her.  They looked at her and thought, not "she is a terrorist" but "is she a terrorist?" There was a difference, but it was still potentially an unsettling and dangerous situation. She didn't entirely blame her non-Muslim fellow citizens; after all, how were they to tell? It was precisely al-Qaeda's strategy to blend in with the rest of the Muslim community so that no-one would suspect their intentions were malevolent, that there was any need to be suspicious about them. She cursed these followers of an aberrant strain of Islam. They had brought all kinds of harm upon their Muslim brothers and sisters and they didn't care about it one bit.  
 You simply had to go on living, and not worry about it. In so far as you could.
 Because Samira did worry about it. She couldn't help it and nor could millions of other Muslims in the West. One terrible, chilling thought was forever hanging over their heads, day by day. In its effects on relations between the West and Islam September 11th had been bad enough. What would the consequences be, she wondered with a sickening feeling of dread, if it was to happen again?  

It was a beautifully warm and sunny day in Hounslow, as in the rest of the country, and lorry driver Dave Perkins was enjoying a leisurely stroll in the park. Pausing for a while in his amblings, he found himself studying the crowds of brown-skinned people gathered on the grass around him, thoughtfully.
 There was no doubt that those members of a large ethnic and religious minority who had evil on their minds could hide within that community and use its infrastructure to commit their crimes, while at the same time exploiting the liberal philosophy which made politicians reluctant to introduce the measures that in the long run might be needed to deal with them. It upset, angered and disgusted him that these people, these terrorists, came and settled here, using the country's facilities for their own benefit, living with and benefiting from the work, the achievements, of their non-Muslim fellow citizens while being prepared to kill and injure them on a massive scale; perhaps in their adopted country itself, which was most disgraceful of all, perhaps elsewhere. Their fanatical devotion to their cause outweighed any compunction they might have about repaying the host community with genocide, as it did every other consideration. By their lights, it had to.  
 There had already been one Islamic terrorist atrocity in Britain. He wondered how people would react if there were many more. After all, had the majority of the public ever actually signed a contract saying that they would gladly uphold the principle of multiculturalism even under the provocation of massive Muslim suicide bombings on their own soil? Of course not. It was just that up to now their patience had not been too severely tested.
 As well as angry Dave was also frightened, although being like most English people emotionally restrained he didn't allow his fear to show. No-one knew who the terrorists were, when they would strike, or how. Out of a large and growing immigrant population, swollen by a seemingly unstoppable tide of asylum seekers, into which a terrorist could all too easily blend you couldn't tell who were the good guys and who the bad just by looking at people's faces. They could strike using one of several different methods; not knowing which it would be added to the feelings of unease and alarm everyone was trying to suppress. And when they did strike it would be with weapons that pierced your eyes, your flesh, with fragments of broken glass and splintered wood or burnt you to death in hideous agony. The victim might be himself or it might be Sandra, his wife, or Tom or Kerry, his young son and daughter. Trapped helplessly under fallen debris while the flames licked at their flesh. If they weren't killed they might be left in excruciating agony until they could be treated − or for the rest of their lives. 
 The world was violent enough as it was. He sometimes felt he couldn't stand it if every few weeks he saw pictures on the TV or in the papers of people, youngsters included, lying battered and covered in blood in the street. Or as they were before the catastrophe that claimed their lives; healthy, smiling people. Ordinary people; British people, like himself. People he might know or be related to.  
 He thought it was important to decide what his attitude would be to ordinary Muslims if things got worse. He told himself he wouldn't victimise them; it would merely be reacting to one wrong by committing another. But surely there was nothing wrong in simply being cautious?
 There were white Muslims, he knew, and some of them were terrorists like the "shoe bomber" who had tried to blow up an American airliner with his improvised explosives. But most of them weren't white, they were brown- or dark-skinned, Middle Eastern in appearance. Any one of them, at any hour of the day, could be a suicide bomber and if they were he was risking his life by being close to them.  
 Dave worked in the city. You couldn't avoid the city, whether or not your livelihood depended on it, because its teeming social and cultural life, its pubs and clubs and shops, its theatres and cinemas and museums, drew you to it like iron filings to a magnet. But every time he went up to London he wondered whether he would be safe. Would this be the day a bomb on the Tube or in the street, or a lethal outbreak of anthrax, took his life or the life of a loved one?
Just like Samira, he was living on a knife edge.

"I need to know, George," the Prime Minister repeated, impatiently tapping his pencil on the desktop. "I need to know."
 The committee known as COBRA meets regularly in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room − hence its name − to generally review national security or to discuss how to deal with a terrorist act that is either in the process of commission, as in the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege, or thought to be imminent. It generally consists of the Prime Minister and Home Secretary plus representatives of the Metropolitan and, if necessary, regional police forces; sometimes the Armed Services too. The heads of one or other of the intelligence services may also attend, along with individuals whose specialist knowledge of the matter being discussed is crucial. On this occasion the Foreign Secretary was present in case liaison with other countries was required at some point.
 Of late, COBRA had been meeting with increasing frequency. The reason, of course, was that after the terrorist atrocities in America in 2001 the West had realised it faced a determined, insidious and thoroughly ruthless enemy, in some ways more dangerous than the IRA or the Abu Nidal group, whose threat to its way of life was ever-present and who was not likely to be overcome in the short run.  
 That enemy was the militant Islamic organisation calling itself al-Qaeda (the base). A body of men, and occasionally women, whose views on Westerners, unless perhaps they happened to be Muslims, were little different from Hitler's towards the Jews (indeed they hated the Jews too, so much so that it was hard to say who in the end they despised most). It was a frightening and also highly dangerous situation to be in. What was particularly disturbing about al-Qaeda, apart from the general virulence of their tone, was their refusal to distinguish between civilians and members of the political establishment, intelligence services or armed forces. Or between men and women, adults and children.  
 They used a variety of different tactics and struck at all kinds of targets. Their aim was to cripple Western society, which they saw as decadent, corrupt and racist towards them, in both material and psychological terms. Their whole outlook behaviour and past behaviour meant no Western nation or individual could consider themselves safe. It wasn’t just the Iraq war which explained their anger, though that had been the primary cause of the 7/7 bombings, however much the government responsible for Britain’s involvement in the conflict tried to deny it. 
 From the oak-panelled walls of the Cabinet Room the portraits of bygone statesmen looked down on its occupants with what Number Ten's current incumbent uneasily thought of as a disparaging air. He often found himself wondering how Lloyd George, for example − the founder of the Cabinet system and its associated bureaucracy − would have coped with such a situation. By way of reassuring himself he decided there was no comparison; today's world was so thoroughly different from that of the Welsh Wizard. 
 Several of the police representatives were from Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, SO13. It was the intention that over the next few years the number of officers in SO13 would be considerably increased. Already SO13 was playing a vital role in the fight against terrorism; police marksmen including snipers were being drafted in to create a permanent armed unit, 250-strong, at Heathrow airport, and there would also be armed patrols at other airports and at aircraft maintenance depots. Armed officers were routinely patrolling outside sensitive buildings in London such as the US Embassy. A number of detectives from regional forces were already on secondment to 13 and more were expected to join them. At the same time dozens of officers with firearms experience were being transferred from other duties to the Yard's VIP protection squad.   
 Scotland Yard was also maintaining contact with Israel, a country in the forefront of terrorist attacks and therefore knowledgeable on the subject of terrorism from bitter experience, regarding the latest tactics used by suicide bombers. The thought of those links made John Kimber, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, wince. Any close relationship with Israel, whatever its justification, would reinforce the conviction in the minds of Muslim fanatics that the West and the Jews were engaged in a Zionist-Crusader conspiracy against the Arab-Islamic world.  
 In their war on terror the authorities faced two problems. The first was one of balancing the need not to paralyse the country by fear with that of protecting the public. The second was the difficulty of weighing up the constant stream of intelligence information received by MI5 and MI6. At the moment the national threat level stood at the second highest − the one below that where an actual attack was considered imminent.  
 The meeting had begun by considering the nature of any atrocity that might be committed. "It depends what they decide to go for, and on what materials are available to them. 7/7 was a bombing carried out using hydrogen peroxide and fertilizer. Semtex is a little more difficult to acquire these days. But a pipe bomb is fairly easy to manufacture, as is any simple explosive device." John Kimber's voice was glum; he knew he was talking about something that could not be prevented and was virtually certain to happen from time to time if someone desired it badly enough.  
The Prime Minister nodded sombrely. "What about street shootings?"
 "Again, fairly easy. There are enough illegal guns around, it's quite possible some could fall into the hands of a terrorist organisation."  
 Professor Peter Norton, the government's anti-terrorism expert, sensed the Prime Minister's mood and saw the lines of worry etched into Tom Buchan's face. He decided it was time for some words of reassurance. "The thing is, they'll be wanting to slaughter as many as possible in one go, especially if they're planning on buying the farm themselves.  A man could go into a cafe and shoot dead all the customers with a Uzi or a Tokarev. He could do the same in a crowded street. But he'd only be able to kill a certain number before he ran out of bullets − he might save the last one for himself, if it was a suicide job − and then he’d be caught. What I'm getting at is that it's a pretty wasteful method of killing people, bearing in mind you can't guarantee a limitless supply of like-minded individuals to replace the terrorists who die or get captured.
 "But a bombing, likewise, could kill any number of people depending on the effectiveness of the device and various chance factors," Norton added.  
 "Which means that if they want to make a really big impact the tactic they'll be most likely to use is an attack on a nuclear power station, or the release of some kind of virus." The Prime Minister seized on this point.  
 "Right. Nuclear power stations − well, the security there is as tight as you're going to get. And if it's as good at the airports you won't get a plane being crashed on Sellafield or Sizewell. And the reactor buildings are designed to withstand a hit from a surface-to-air missile or something like that.
 "Obviously bacteriological and chemical research laboratories maintain strict security. The likelihood of supplies of anthrax, or any other toxic agent, finding its way into terrorist hands from there is pretty slim. Nor can it easily be brought into the country, because Customs have been told to watch out for that sort of thing. We know terrorists have attempted to use ricin in the past, but thankfully it doesn't kill in large numbers. Having said that, biological and chemical warfare is still a potential threat and we'll be discussing it in more detail next week, once all the reports are in and have been evaluated.
 "What's most worrying to me, Prime Minister, is that we can protect individual installations and people, but it's less easy to look after the general public when they're going about their daily business. There are some sixty million of them.  
 "If we do succeed, in the long run, in preventing a nuclear attack or a virus outbreak the terrorists will still try to kill large numbers in shopping centres or at mainline stations. Now we can have the public and the police look out for an unattended parcel or vehicle. But if the bomb is a man or a woman, and they're in among a lot of other people..."
The Prime Minister shuddered.   
 Suicide terrorism had first come to public attention in the 1980s, with such attacks as the one on the US Army barracks in Lebanon. It had since spread to a wide range of countries, most notably Israel, with the growth of Islamic radicalism. The most dangerous of the groups using suicide bombers was al-Qaeda, though there were several others.  
 Each bomber belonged to a cell which gave him operational support, and might have links with similar groups in other countries. The different groups around the world frequently visited each other, distributing propaganda and raising funds either in their adopted countries or abroad, and supplied each other with weapons. The support group would handle the task of getting the bomber to the target, being sure to maintain secrecy and also to check out the target area beforehand. 
 Norton explained that a suicide bomb could be carried in a car, by motorcycle, a river vessel, a light aircraft or glider, or a diver. But the most likely method was the bodysuit. It was cheap and easy to make and couldn't be more simple to operate. The bomber simply walked over to where he wanted to be and tugged on a cord which in turn pulled the trigger and detonated the bomb, a small heart-shaped block of plastic explosive easily concealed beneath the bomber's clothing, just above the navel.  
"Overall, what is the danger from aerial attacks?" Buchan asked.  
 "We're keeping the possibility in mind. But although we're not taking any chances, we're not according it the highest priority either. Since September 11th security's been too tight. As for light aircraft, their range is limited, they're more difficult to control in bad weather, and they don't cause as much damage when they crash.   
 "I'm positive it's the bomber on the ground − literally − who's our main problem. There's little or no electronics so you can't detect them that way. You'd have no idea until it was too late. We can put several rings of police around a particular place or person, but not around everywhere where there's a large group of people."
 The Prime Minister had gone white. "How...how are these suicide bombs made? How do they get all the components?"
 "Most of them, and I guess this sounds pretty frightening, can be bought off the shelf. You can get stretch denim from a tailor's and the steel ball bearings, wires, batteries and switches from an auto parts shop. Fortunately there are two things you can't: the detonators, which are specialised equipment not available from your average local electronics store, and the explosive itself − plastic explosive. Those things have to be specially made, and their use is confined to military and some industrial applications. Not that you can't get hold of them, but it would be very difficult.  There are people in this country who have the technical knowledge to make the detonators and they could be suborned or, more likely, threatened in some way. But the materials they'd be working with aren't readily obtainable. The same with the explosive. Unless security at the places who hold these items is pretty lax − we've done our best to make sure it isn't, and for our peace of mind we'll have to assume we've succeeded − it would need to be imported."
 The Prime Minister nodded. "And generally I believe our customs officials do their jobs properly." 
 John Kimber spoke up. "We can't discount the possibility that someone working in the electronics or explosives industry may have sympathies with al-Qaeda. It's what they'd try to do; put people in positions where they could make sure some dodgy consignment or other got through."
"I'm sure everyone in sensitive positions is regularly vetted," Buchan insisted.
 "What if the person doing the vetting was a terrorist? The thing is, there are nearly two million Muslims in Britain, and we have to be careful because we can't be sure all of them are loyal citizens."
 The Prime Minister reacted to this immediately, his face freezing with anger. "I assure you I will not sanction a witch hunt," he snapped, repeatedly jabbing the biro in his hand at Kimber. He spoke rapidly and in a raised voice, at the end leaving himself almost breathless. "We live in a multicultural society. I, I, I will not agree to any action which would lead to the criminalisation of our Muslim fellow citizens."
 Kimber winced. "With respect, Prime Minister, I wasn't saying you should. I imagine the terrorists don't include people like..." He rattled off the names of various prominent members of the Muslim community.
 "All right, all right," said the Prime Minister impatiently. He now addressed the meeting as a whole. "To sum up, I believe we're doing all we can to address the problem." He knew the situation was much the same in any other Western country; that the CIA, FBI and other intelligence services were holding similar meetings, at which similar things were being said. "We've discussed the means that might be used and ways of stopping it. In the end, though, we can't be sure which tactic suicide bombers will employ."
 Norton nodded. "No. It's what they're reckoning on, that we'll get confused and overstretched and make mistakes. It's psychological warfare." 
 "Now what about the terrorists themselves? Who and where are they? We've, er, already touched on the subject."
 The Home Secretary answered solemnly, "I can safely say that we have every known suspect under surveillance, Prime Minister." It occurred to Norton that “known suspect” was something of a tautology. 
"What about the ones we don't know about?" 
 The Home Secretary glanced over at the head of MI5. Sir George Ackroyd smiled ruefully. "Ah," he sighed, "well that's just it."
 The Prime Minister's lips tightened. "I need to know," he said crossly. "Is it possible that a cell could have come into being here without our knowing it?"
 A rather uneasy silence fell upon the meeting. The Prime Minister regarded Ackroyd imploringly. His tone changed, became almost plaintive. "Please, George. I want the truth."
 Ackroyd stared down at the table for a moment, fiddling with his pen. Then he drew himself up.
 "It's possible," he said solemnly, "that recent immigrants who we have so far had no reason to suspect have been keeping in touch with one another and have made an agreement to plan acts of terrorism in such a way as to minimise the chances of our knowing about it, keeping everything compartmentalized. Or, at the other end of the scale, the cell could have been formed a long time ago. Before we realised we ourselves were a target for al-Qaeda. When we were still committed just as much to dealing with other issues."
"A sleeper cell?"
 "That I believe is the expression used, Prime Minister. Or the plotters may have changed their minds about becoming involved in terrorism, only to be re-radicalised somehow later on, and by the coincidence of individual decisions which were reached without attending any of the mosques we consider dodgy.”
"And if there was such a cell?" 
 "Then depending on how careful it was not to arouse suspicion, we wouldn't necessarily be aware of it." He stopped playing with his biro, put it down and shrugged. 
 Another pause followed. Then, slowly, the Prime Minister spoke. "So what you're saying is that there could be an al-Qaeda terrorist group somewhere in this country, in our midst, who may be actively planning suicide bombings and we don't know it?"
 Again Ackroyd sighed, again he picked up his pen and twirled it for a moment or two before replacing it on the table. He slumped back in his chair, then slowly lifted his head and looked Tom Buchan straight in the eye. 
"Yes," he said softly. "Yes, Prime Minister. I'm afraid I am."
    


SEVEN
Flashback
Just for a moment, as he strolled down the busy high street of the West London suburb where he lived on that sunny Saturday afternoon, Ahmed al-Kursaali allowed himself a self-satisfied smile. What amused him was that the people around him had not the slightest idea what he was and what he was planning. Perhaps when he and his friends made their first strike, savagely and without warning, they would be among those who died. With neither they nor those who survived them knowing it was he who had been responsible.
 His family had emigrated to Britain in the 1990s, soon settling comfortably into this drab but reasonably prosperous suburb of south-west London. They had swiftly mastered the English language and found themselves steady employment.  
 As Ahmed, a child of ten when he first set foot on British soil, grew older he began to really appreciate the strength, the advantage, lying in its simplicity and purity, which his faith gave him. He studied the teachings of the Prophet, along with the writings of radical political thinkers from other cultures, in depth. And fell under the influence of Osama bin Laden and other extremist Muslims.   
 Like a few of his friends in Britain and overseas Ahmed had experienced prejudice first-hand, on one occasion being followed down the street on his way home from the mosque by youths chanting offensive slogans. Quickening their pace until they drew level with him, they attempted to engage him in conversation most of which consisted on their part of remarks insulting to the faith, every now and then kicking his legs from under him so that he fell and delivering punches which caused him to reel and stagger. Then he had bravely withstood the abuse, managing with a heroic effort to control the smouldering anger within his soul; on another, similar occasion he had lashed out in blind furious rage, resulting in a fight in which he received some nasty injuries before police intervention broke things up. Later, he began to hear about the sufferings of relatives in other countries who were killed in US bombings or by persecution by the authorities.
 He saw himself as a member of a persecuted, misunderstood minority. In all Western countries Muslims were treated the same way, and always would be as long as they did not control the state. He was aware that some people maintained British society was not as racist as it once had been, that the worst of the hatred and prejudice was found among a certain social group for whose faults the nation as a whole tended to be unfairly blamed, and that in many ways it was runaway liberalism that was the problem. He had no time and no sympathy for this view, which was designed essentially to deceive, distracting attention from the real issue of anti-Islamism. After all Westerners were a pretty perverse lot, weren't they?
 And still there was the monster, Israel, oppressing his Palestinian brothers and sisters and denying them independence and nationhood, with the complicity of her American stooges who would complain whenever she committed another atrocity but fail to act to force restraint on her.  There seemed no other way to interpret America's attitude than as a sign of anti-Arab prejudice. Then there was the extrusion of the Western way of life, one he felt despised and rejected him, into Islamic countries, backed by Western economic power. By the money they bled from Arab oil.
 Realising that certain other Muslims in his local mosque felt the same way he tentatively broached the possibility of their joining al-Qaeda or one of the other Islamic terrorist organisations which at this time were beginning to supersede the politically and ethnically oriented groups such as Abu Nidal or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.  It had been taking a risk, because they might have betrayed him once his plans became known. But he could sense who would definitely support him and who wouldn't or might prove ambivalent. He was a good judge of character.
 It had been a great moment when they had all agreed to go off to the training camps together, each spontaneously clasping the others by the hand in a gesture of brotherhood and solidarity. There followed several years' gruelling training, designed to make them into unquestioning servants of the world Islamic revolution, steeled to carry out any task that would advance the cause. al-Kursaali benefited immensely from the training, but in one respect it made little difference to the way he thought and behaved. To Western commentators the indoctrination seemed to bring about disturbing changes in previously ordinary and peace-loving Muslims. In al-Kursaali's case they had already been made, long ago.
 As far as their families knew they were on a tour of the Middle East, taking in all the Holy Places including Mecca, for which a wealthy benefactor − one of al-Kursaali's uncles − had paid. It was certainly true that he had supplied the money, but he had no inkling of what it was really being used for. 
 They returned from the camps to establish a cell in Britain, as they had been instructed to do. Britain was known to support America when it came to military action against Muslim countries, as the 1991 Gulf War showed; it might need teaching a lesson at some point. Their presence as allies of the US in countries like Saudi Arabia to assist in the war against Saddam was an insult to the Prophet, the one thing which in Kursaali's eyes could never be forgiven, whether it came from believer or infidel. At the same time its pro-American stance meant that Britain was still politically important, and it was also a major financial centre; if successful a major terrorist attack on the country would be of considerable value in terms of crippling and destabilising the West. If America was al-Qaeda's Number One target then Britain was without question the Number Two.  
 By day, of course, they were all ordinary respectable citizens of the country whose destruction they were contemplating. al-Kursaali himself tended to seem a quiet, unassuming, ostensibly harmless person. Occasionally there would be a sudden passionate outburst about the evils of Western imperialism, which startled and disconcerted the non-Muslims who knew him. But generally he kept his head down, as he knew he must. Once or twice following the September 11th atrocities he had been unwise enough to be heard praising the perpetrators, which caused considerable offence and distress among his work colleagues. He had been forced to apologise, while secretly continuing to gloat. He knew the company was reluctant to take further action, in case of a walk-out of their Muslim employees. Since then, however, he had been more careful. Other Muslims had continued to make mistakes and been dismissed, complaining vociferously about racism but preferring not to bring the matter to court because it would involve the public knowing what they had done. But al-Kursaali never put a foot wrong; there must be nothing, nothing at all, to give people the slightest indication he sympathised with the aims and methods of Osama bin Laden. There must be total ignorance, total absence of suspicion. Until they struck. 
 For the first few years of its existence the cell had confined itself to recruitment, gradually extending its influence within the mosque and also forming links with cells in other countries, assisting them in gaining support, spreading propaganda − and sometimes planning actual terrorist operations − in parts of the world where conditions were a good deal less stable, and the Muslim community more active and vociferous, than in their adopted country. It had been reluctantly decided that Britain was not, for the moment at least, a target and that all their efforts should be concentrated on attacking American interests worldwide.  
 There had been some discussion on the matter within the group. "Of course this country is corrupt, decadent, materialistic, like everywhere else in the West," al-Kursaali admitted. "For that, and for the support they give the Yankee sons of bitches they deserve to be punished. But America is by far the stronger, the more powerful of the two. She can play the imperial role while Britain cannot, not any more.  We must regard her as the principal enemy and it is against her that we must concentrate our efforts. Otherwise we risk wasting lives and resources. Allah will not thank us for that." Personally it would have given al-Kursaali the greatest of pleasure to launch a massive terrorist campaign against the British people. When one cleans one's house of dirt, does not one remove the smaller specks along with the larger? But for the reasons he had given, he had no option but to restrain himself − to concentrate their efforts where they were most needed.
It was that consideration, more than any other, which had kept Britain safe.  

COBRA meeting, No 10 Downing Street
"Fortunately, of course, the vast majority of Muslims aren't evil terrorists," the Home Secretary was saying. "That makes our task a lot easier. There can't be that many of these people walking about. Of course they'll always find new recruits to replace the ones who get killed or arrested, but the supply available at any one time is limited. It could well be that in this country, for example, there are no more than three or four. If any."
 The Prime Minister was still unsettled by the whole idea; in fact he was more disquieted than he had been by anything else since he had taken office. He seemed to be chewing the point over and over again in his mind.  
 It was his and everyone else's nightmarish, haunting fear that someone might have slipped through the net. Someone who was prepared to carry out a major terrorist attack on British civilians, and repeat the atrocity as often as they could.
"But we don't know for sure," he said vexedly.
"No."
"Then what do we do?" .
 "All we can do," the Home Secretary said, "is to ask the public to be vigilant."
 "We've already done that," John Kimber sighed. It was a vague phrase which had of late become rather a cliche. "But without the benefit of omniscience they won't always know when something nasty is in the making."
 "We can't keep every Muslim in the country under surveillance. Even supposing it was possible, it'd be condemned as racist and there'd also be serious implications for civil liberties."
 "It would be racist," piped up the Foreign Secretary passionately. That depends on whether it's necessary, thought John Kimber. He didn't give voice to his feelings, for that would have meant considerable damage to his career. 
 It certainly wasn't something he'd have liked to do. Here he was in sharp contrast to one or two of his colleagues, who he knew would have no regrets whatsoever although they couldn't say so. He dismissed the thought from his mind. It wasn't practical, anyway. Which to his immense relief meant that they would not be faced with the choice. 
 Silence fell once more, lasting for a longer this time. It was Sir George Ackroyd who broke it. "What a Muslim privately thinks, whether in the end they really would be prepared to blow up the people they live alongside and work with every day, we can have no idea, because if they were they wouldn't let us know it until it was too late for us to do anything.
 "A lot of the young, radical Muslims are impulsive and foolish. They say something stupid and provocative and then people start getting worries about them, while other people accuse the ones with the worries of being paranoid and racist. It may all be a lot of fuss over nothing. They may privately sympathise with al-Qaeda, up to a point. But they don't actively support their aims or seriously intend to take part in terrorist acts."
 "Of course, someone might be OK now but become radicalised later on," Peter Norton reminded his companions. "At the moment, though, most Muslims are being pretty careful. They know the situation is potentially dangerous for them. They're trying hard to avoid doing or saying anything that'll bring the BNP types down on their heads."   
 The Prime Minister turned to Ackroyd. "So what are you doing about it at the moment, George? How do you know when you've got a suspect?"
 "We're watching anyone who's known to have links with suspect individuals or organisations, or has themselves been making provocative statements. Monitoring their phones, keeping a watch on their homes and places they frequent.  Whenever we come across something suspicious we pull them in and hold them until we're satisfied there's no danger to the public. It's all we can do, Prime Minister." 
Buchan grunted his agreement. 
 "If there were to be a sustained bombing campaign in this country," he asked the meeting, "what would the feeling be towards the Muslim community?"
 It was Norton who answered. "Racist attacks would undoubtedly increase. I think only the hardline racists would actually go around burning mosques and that sort of thing.  People in whom racism is latent might well be triggered off by it. The rest of the population might not do that sort of thing, but they would avoid their Muslim neighbours out of fear that they might possibly be terrorists. Unless perhaps they happened to know them personally, and even then you can be surprisingly mistaken. It doesn't make for a harmonious society, and it'll create a climate in which unease and tension mount. A climate the BNP and others like them will exploit."
 "There wasn't that much of a reaction against the Irish community after the IRA bombings," pointed out the Home Secretary. "Not from ordinary people. You did get that sort of thing, but not very often."
 "It's not the same with the Muslims. Their way of life is far more different from ours, and they are, or will become in the future, more numerous. Consequently they're perceived as a greater threat. The other thing is that the IRA never planned to use weapons of mass destruction, either because it was going too far even for them or because the technology and the opportunities simply weren't available. They never attempted what might, if it happened often enough and on a sufficiently big scale, amount to genocide."
 The Prime Minister drew himself up in his chair, and spoke with dignified authority. "I intend to make an appeal for tolerance to the nation, should such a terrible eventuality occur." He would have made one already except that he was sensible enough to see that it might itself be interpreted as a sign that something nasty was about to happen, and cause mass panic. John Kimber could imagine the words he would use.  At some point he'd day something on the lines of "I know the natural tolerance of the British people will triumph in the end, as it always has done." Kimber only hoped he was right.
 There followed some general discussion of the problem, until the Prime Minister gave a weary sigh and glanced up at the clock on the wall. He beamed at the meeting. "Well, I think that's all for the moment. I'll see you all again on Thursday." 
 Peter Norton and John Kimber came down the steps of the building together. "Well, what do you think of that?" Kimber sighed.
Norton shrugged. "I guess we're doing the best we can."
 "I hope so," Kimber muttered. “7/7 so far seems to be a one-off. And the reaction of the public suggests they’re essentially tolerant; there weren’t widespread race riots or bombing of mosques. But…well, I’m still worried. About what would happen if we got too many…incidents. Or if the terrorists did something really big…people may not want to have to endure things like that too often, especially when at the same time they’re very conscious of the challenge the continuing growth of the Muslim population, of which al-Qaeda is an extreme manifestation, poses to their own identity and way of life. They could decide the only way to protect themselves would be to freeze the Muslims out. And the Muslims won’t like being frozen out, so…" 
"Rivers of blood? Is that what you’re saying?"
 "I hope it won’t happen, naturally. But if a member of your family has just been blown up or poisoned in a terrorist atrocity, you won't be in the mood for a PC lecture and it would be insensitive to insist on giving you one. People will want all the Muslims to be deported or interned; though I suspect that because there’s still this innate British decency which shrinks from that kind of measure, they’ll leave it to the BNP to make such demands, which of course means things will get even nastier." 
 "Well, everyone’s doing what they can to prevent any more atrocities," Norton repeated. He smacked his lips and looked down at the pavement, his heart heavy. "I just have this terrible feeling it isn't going to be enough."

Flashback
As al-Kursaali carried on down the street, a poster advertising one of the sleazier nightclubs in the district, and depicting a more or less naked girl in a highly provocative pose, met his eye. He paused to glare at it in disgust, then walked on. A little later fitter Frank Robbins, returning to where his van was parked from a trip to the newsagent's for a paper and a packet of fags, came along and also noticed the poster, stopping to run his eyes over it appreciatively. 
 Muslims of Osama bin Laden's kind hated pornography and saw it as a sign of decadence and corruption, despising the West because of it. But to Frank the naked girl was a sign of life, life in its most unashamed and exuberant form. Seeing her in her natural beauty and revelling in it was a very warm, healthy, human thing to do, and to destroy her or her image an unnatural act. One extremist had declared proudly, "we love death as you love life." And indeed Westerners did love life − their own, or that of their families and friends − and love sex. In bin Laden and his kind Frank saw a cold, humourless, chilling rejection of such things, in favour of a narrow and pitiless ideology that permitted no opposition and was prepared to kill in order to punish it.
 Meanwhile Ahmed al-Kursaali continued on his way, still wrapped in his thoughts.
 September 11th had been a signal to all Westerners, regardless of age or sex or position within society, that from now on none of them were safe. The next holocaust might not come tomorrow, or the next year even, but come it would at some point in the not too distant future. September 11th was such a great achievement that it had to be emulated wherever possible; to Muslims everywhere it was a rallying call. 
 And al-Kursaali was deliriously happy, relishing the possibilities that had been created by events in New York and Washington. A campaign that reached everywhere had a greater psychological effect. If America's allies saw that they were suffering because of its policies towards Islam, they would demand that it changed those policies. 
 After 9/11 everyone had known what the cell's role was to be. They would need of course to remain undetected so they could fulfil it. As far as they knew they were not under surveillance by MI5; they had been careful, of course, and intelligence agencies were not omniscient, not infallible.  Even the most experienced spies make mistakes, overlook things or misinterpret information. Of course if the intelligence services were doing their job properly, they wouldn't be aware of the surveillance. And MI5 were in some ways more efficient than the CIA and FBI, though with a much smaller country and population to look after they had an easier job. But not to act through fear they might be exposed would paralyse them forever. Their faith gave them immense reserves of patience but patience could be taken too far.
 Assuming they were not being monitored, they must capitalise on that advantage to the utmost. They had cut off all their links with fellow terrorists overseas in case the British or Americans found out about those connections, perhaps through monitored phone conversations, and traced things back to the London cell. From now on their activities were to be confined solely to Britain and their role was essentially to carry out at least one major atrocity in that country. The first might lead to their exposure − the risk was unavoidable − but they would remain at large as long as they could, and carry out as much devastation as possible. Just a few people gunned down, poisoned with ricin, or blown up with home-made bombs, from time to time would be enough to sow fear and uncertainty among the civilian population.  
 Tactically there was every value in attacking civilians. Military targets, almost by definition, were too well guarded, as were leading political figures. The victim had to be “soft”. The hope was that by spreading enough fear and panic, whether by a few successes or a gradual process of attrition, they could bring the country down in ruins or make the public pressurise their leaders to address the wrongs which led such as al-Kursaali to target them. Exactly how far they could go in the end was difficult at this point to estimate, but what al-Kursaali and his friends sought was to create a climate in which the Muslims would leave the West, and the West leave the Middle East. They must welcome the division of the planet on lines that recognised the true reality of the situation; that there was a struggle between Islam and the infidels and that the two could not co-exist. The blindfold would be snatched from the eyes of the world. And if, ultimately, all non-Muslims could be killed, or forced to convert, that would be even better. 
 Meanwhile MI5 were maintaining the pressure, the government having realised that if it did not act effectively to counter the threat of Islamic terrorism in Britain, and more people died, the political consequences would be terrifying. And to get the weapons they needed for a bombing campaign was difficult. But with infinite patience they waited for the infidels to make a mistake, to create an opening for them.  Waited for their chance to come.
 A few streets away Farzad Moaven, on his way to the meeting Kursaali had called, was entertaining thoughts similar to his leader's. Whatever his feelings towards Westerners as people, Moaven knew that what they planned to do was justified. He had to see it through; which meant putting to the back of his mind the knowledge that many British people actually disapproved of America's behaviour on the world stage, and whilst they saw the latter’s point of view felt far more sympathy for the Palestinians than they did the Israelis. It also meant steeling himself against horror at the thought of the pretty blonde lying dead and mutilated on the pavement, the little girl with her legs blown off screaming in helpless, uncomprehending agony.  
 He glanced from time to time at the other people in the street, sometimes in a hostile manner, sometimes more with aapprehension, sometimes with interest. The ambivalence with which he viewed the Western public disturbed him, preying on his conscience. When the time came, could he really bring himself to slaughter them all in their hundreds, thousands, millions? Men, women, small children?
 Every day he mixed with them, enjoyed a chat and a joke with them; lived with them. Many were good people, he knew that.  And he benefited from the fruits of their labour every time he received treatment in their hospitals, bought something he needed from their shops or watched something good on television.
 They were people like himself, with lives, families, hopes and fears. A colourful, complex, fascinating society, even among the white population diverse in their physical appearance, beliefs and culture. They were living, breathing human beings, and after he had done what he was proposing to  they would live and breathe no more; while the survivors would be left mourning their loved ones, struggling to come to terms with the daily anguish of their loss.  
 He found Western women attractive and on a few occasions had enjoyed their sexual services, although he knew such behaviour was un-Islamic and wrong. To destroy that kind of beauty, which he supposed was God's work along with everything else, filled him with a deep sense of regret, like a stabbing pain dealt by a keenly sharpened knife. But, he told himself, it was precisely the strengthening of himself against any such qualms that would prove his worth in the eyes of Allah. He had to force himself to hate Westerners because if he became too fond of them it would get in the way of what he had to do. Think of their bad points, he told himself. Think of their greed, corruption, licentiousness, racism. And wish the world free of them.  
 He passed a shop front with a poster displayed in the window appealing for the public's help in finding a teenage girl who had mysteriously vanished some weeks ago while walking home from school. Her pretty, laughing face looked out from the poster at him, its eyes wide and full of the innocence and naivety of youth. That innocence had without doubt caused her to accept a lift from a stranger who instead of driving her home had taken her to a lonely wood where he raped and  murdered her, unspeakably defiling her young body as if it were nothing more than an object on which to practice his base perversions. 
 How can they let this happen? he wondered with angry disbelief. In an Islamic country few would do such a thing because if caught they would either be beheaded or lose certain other body parts, including intimate ones. Britain is falling apart, he thought with contempt; losing its solidarity. They know we are planning to attack them, that we would destroy them all if we could, yet they still prey on each other in this despicable way. A society like this deserves to die. It is almost an act of mercy to kill them.    
 As al-Kursaali and Moaven continued on their way the character of their surroundings gradually changed. There were less and less white faces, and fewer voices speaking in English. The streets and pavements were overflowing with brown-skinned, dark-haired people many of whom wore turbans or little lace caps and long flowing white robes, veils and all-enveloping black cloaks if they were women.  
 al-Kursaali felt them close around him like a warm comforting cocoon. He felt safer here, among people of his own race. It wasn't just that he naturally felt more at home among his own kind. Now he could blend in with them, be less conspicuous. 
 He turned off down a side road, and in a little while came to the house he shared with two other members of his cell. It was one of a row of identical, nondescript terraced houses in a drab and unremarkable street. 
 He let himself in. Entering the living room, he found his friends gathered there to greet him. In keeping with the Muslim distaste for unnecessary show it was simply and sparsely furnished, with a notable lack of ornamentation. There was just a sofa, a couple of armchairs, a television set and a bookcase, with a small table on which books or papers could be spread out.
 They were all there. Sami Khalil, broad and muscular. Feroz, tall and skinny, looking like some mild-mannered professor with his round metal-framed spectacles and receding hairline.  Rachim Itami, short and wiry like himself. Moaven with his wild shock of curly hair and handsome film star looks.  Fereydoun the Iranian. And finally Yunus, born of a Nigerian father and a Sudanese mother; Yunus who hardly ever spoke, but didn't need to to make clear the scars left by the prejudice he had experienced both as a Muslim and as a black person. His eyes were huge and bulging, and the intense glare in them along with the grim, tight set of his lips showed a man at war with the world; although the hatred was always tightly controlled, simmering just below the surface.
 Yunus and Moaven lived on the premises; the others were to be there most of the time over the following months as they discussed their plans and then gradually put them into execution, at the same time preparing themselves mentally and physically for the task they must accomplish. 
 Like him they all wore casual Western-style clothing − shirt, jeans and trainers − except for Fereydoun who preferred the traditional white robe. They rose to meet him. "Ahmed, peace be with you," each murmured as they shook his hand.
al-Kursaali smiled. "And on you all be peace."
 Moaven went to the kitchen, to return a few minutes later with cups of sweet Arabic tea. After they had drunk the tea they got down to business. They knew they wanted to carry out a major terrorist strike; what they had not yet decided was how, and where. They felt it was unlikely they could pull off anything on the scale of or of the same kind as September 11th. Most likely the passengers would panic and try to overpower the hijackers, regardless of the risk to their own lives, and that would muck things up. "But we need something that will kill as many people as possible, in one single blow," al-Kursaali told them. "And we must remember that there are not that many of us. If we are to sacrifice our lives it must be in something which achieves the maximum effect. Random shootings, or the assassination of a single individual − who in any case will probably be too well-guarded − will achieve little in the long run if those who carry it out are caught because there will be no-one to continue the fight." There were fanatics, fools or madmen, who might attempt such a thing but what al-Kursaali sought was discipline. "It is the same with something like ricin. The stuff will only kill a few people at a time, it cannot be used as a weapon of mass destruction.
 "A pipe, car or rucksack bomb might work, but I think there is a better way. They are asking the public to be vigilant. A suitcase left unattended, a car parked on its own, could be noticed and reported. But a person is different. You don't stop everyone you meet in the street in case they might be a terrorist. Let the man be the bomb."
 So it was unanimously agreed that the human-borne suicide bomb was the best method to adopt. Others might have worked, but this was the simplest and the one that was hardest to detect.  
 "We must identify our target, survey it on a regular basis and become familiar with it. We must be careful, of course, that none of us appears there more than once, or we will create suspicion." There must be prior planning and reconnaissance, as well the secrecy which enabled them to preserve the all-important advantage of surprise. 
"So do we have the materials we need?" asked Fereydoun.  
 "At the moment, no. Some of them we will be able to obtain quite easily. Others will prove more difficult." It was a problem which was to paralyse the project for some time.  They found that with the generally tighter security after September 11th the equipment was proving frustratingly difficult to smuggle into the country. And without it, there was no point in doing anything much.
And then had come Li Tan. 


EIGHT
Ditchingfield, Suffolk
As Marjorie Harriman straightened up from picking a piece of fluff from the carpet, the photograph of Jeffrey on the mantelpiece caught her eye. Wiping away a tear, she looked round the tidy, smartly furnished living room and sighed.  She was proud of the way she kept up her house, but how empty and dead it seemed right now without his cheerful presence.
 Of course there was nothing to do but try and get on with life as best she could. It wasn't easy, of course.
 She was becoming increasingly certain he wasn't coming back.  And now a new terror was haunting her. Every so often, when she opened the living room curtains in the morning or happened to glance across the road while working in the front garden, she was sure she saw a man standing on the pavement looking over at the house, who turned and walked away as soon as he realised she was watching him. Or two men sitting in a car; they were there for a suspiciously long time, just sitting chatting and from time to time glancing at the house. It wasn't the same men each time, but then it wouldn't be. 
 She was convinced someone was watching her. Perhaps the strain she was under was affecting her brain, leading her to imagine things. She couldn't be sure it was that and didn't want to take risks. So eventually, having had enough of the nagging fear which preyed on her mind, she picked up the phone and rang the local police.   

Yu Chen stood at the window in the living room of his house in Beijing − as Westerners were now supposed to call it − looking out over the broad green stretch of garden towards the great sprawling mass of the city.  
 He saw a vista of office blocks and skyscrapers fashioned from featureless, soulless concrete. It saddened him that so much of the old architecture of the capital had been destroyed by the Communists, leaving a city little different from most places in the West. That is not how it should be, he thought. We need architecture that expresses our historic identity and character, that reminds us we are China.   
 The Communists, he thought, his face freezing for a moment as its muscles tightened convulsively. How I hate them.
 Every so often he took a walk round the Forbidden City, around the historic buildings there, the Summer Palace and the Hall Of Preserving Harmony, and lost himself in his thoughts, reflecting on what China had once been and might still be if the course of its history had been different.
 Finally leaving the window he paced the room slowly, running his eye fondly over the diverse collection of antiques and other items, mementos from long ago, which filled it. One in particular caught his eye and he went over to inspect it. It was a framed photograph of a young woman, mounted on a stand. Picking it up and cradling it gently in both hands, he looked down at it sadly for a while. Then he replaced it on the sideboard and returned to his desk.
 Just as he was about to sit down, the attack came again. It was as if razor-sharp talons were shredding his body, peeling away whole layers of his being in rapid succession. He felt very weak and very tired. All his responsibilities suddenly seemed a crushing burden which broke his spirit and sapped his strength and willpower. Clapping a hand to his forehead, he reeled against the desk, clutching at it for support.
 It wasn't just his physical energy which seemed to be ebbing away. He couldn't think straight, couldn't make sense of the crazy whirling jumble of thoughts which filled his brain.  For a giddy, terrifying moment he almost forgot who or where he was. Briefly, the room around him turned into a confused, blurry haze before his eyes.  
 He staggered over to the lacquered cabinet, his feet dragging on the carpet so that he almost tripped. His heart was pounding furiously, threatening to burst. His hands shook violently, the long fingers clawing the air as they opened and closed spasmodically. 
 Flinging the doors open, he scrabbled desperately among the cabinet's contents until he found a glass container with a white plastic top. His trembling fingers grasped and closed round it with savage tightness as he rallied his strength.
 He almost dropped it as he took it out. A shuddering dread travelled through him. If it had broken...
 He prised off the top and raised the container to his mouth. Opening it wide, he tilted the capsule and poured in about half of the green liquid. Then, thrusting the capsule back in its place, he lurched over to the desk and fell heavily into the chair, breathing hard and fast. 
 For some minutes he sat perfectly still, his head buried in his hands. Then, hesitantly, he reached for the mirror which sat on the desk. 
 His face showed only too clearly the ravages of the attack; he looked as if he had aged forty years in a few seconds. He trembled with fear, knowing the next one would come at any time. When it did it felt different from the first, as was always the case. Not a debilitating weakness but a sharp, burning pain that started in his chest and then spread to the whole of his body, raising his temperature dangerously. He slumped forward over the desk, almost doubled up in pain. 
 He caught his breath, and for a moment feared he would suffocate. A cold perspiration broke out on his forehead.  
 His blood chilled as he realised he was taking longer to recover than he had in the past. There was no doubt about it, his problem was getting worse. Perhaps this time he wouldn't recover.  
 But eventually the pain ceased, and shaking his head to clear it he got out his papers and set to work. 
 How long before the next attack, he thought despairingly; or the one after?
 If only he did not have to endure this. But he knew there was no choice. For he had things to do, great things, that he could not entrust to anyone else to undertake properly.  

DI Slate returned to his office from the canteen to find Thompson waiting for him, his manner one of restrained excitement.
 "May be nothing in it, Guv," said the DS, "but Ipswich CID just rang. They've had a call from the mother of that boy who's been kidnapped. She thinks someone's watching her house. They thought we ought to know in case there was a connection with the abduction."
Slate frowned. "Could there be?"
 "Not unless the kidnappers are out to get her too. It's possible, of course. They may have something against the family. But it's just as likely to be a coincidence."
"Bit of an odd one," mused Slate. "Still..."
 If it wasn't a coincidence...the idea of someone kidnapping and doing away with an entire family, specifically victimising them in that way, angered and repelled him. He had come across that kind of thing before in his police career but it didn't assuage his feelings one bit.  
There was another consideration too.
"Is she on the phone at the moment?" he asked.
 "No, but I've got her number. She asked if someone would ring her back."
 "You bet I will," Slate said. In a moment or two he was speaking to Marjorie Harriman. He was to find her still a little subdued, and in the circumstances obviously worried, but there was a hint of steel in her which aroused his admiration. You had to admit, some of these upper crust types could be pretty tough. 
 "I understand you've had a bit of a problem, Mrs Harriman," he began. "I see...yes, so I gather...I see...listen, Mrs Harriman, don't tell anyone you've been onto us. I think I've got an idea."

Room 419, CIA HQ Langley Virginia
The CIA was about to hold one of its regular meetings to review the general geopolitical situation, along with any matters of particular concern that had arisen. Patrick  Lascelles was already in the room, studying a photograph taken from the file on his desk while he waited for the others to arrive. The photo showed a handsome man in his early forties with sleek dark hair. He studied it for a momen, then with a smile tucked it back in the folder, which he dumped in a tray marked "File, No Action."  If that was Dr Hans Krogl, the notorious Nazi war criminal, then the guy must have taken a hefty dose of Viagra.   
 He looked up as someone knocked on the door. "Come in, guys," he called. One by one his colleagues entered and took their seats.
 "OK," Lascelles sighed, turning to Meyer Louwitz, "first item on the agenda's al-Qaeda."
 "Well as you know," said Louwitz, "recently we've arrested a number of their top people and foiled several attempted bombings. We still haven't found bin Laden, of course, but then we're not exactly sure he's still alive. At any event, I think our recent successes have dealt them a serious psychological blow and caused severe disruption to their network. That's why they've been relatively quiet of late.  But they're still out there and we don't know when and where they're going to strike next.
 "And you have to remember there's lots of other groups with similar aims in existence, or coming into existence." He shrugged. "I guess that's about all I can say. Most of it you already knew."
 "Is it still our opinion," asked Aaron Sternhold, "that al-Qaeda and all the other organisations are decentralised − that is, there’s no contact at all between them or the different cells within each organisation?"
 Louwisch nodded. "Yeah, so far as we can tell.  Decentralisation works to their advantage. That way uncovering one cell won't mean the exposure of another, because there'll be no phone calls between them for the authorities to monitor, no joint meetings which the intelligence services might be spying on."
 "But they'll surely have some factor connecting them all, apart from their basic aims," Lascelles said. "They'll need a single charismatic figure, who may not be a member of their group but can keep up morale and plant suggestions in their heads just by the statements he makes on the videotapes he sends to the media."
 "That's the case with bin Laden," said Louvisch. "Yeah, you're right in what you're saying, Frank. But Laden or whoever has taken his place, if he's dead, won't themselves have the actual details of all the groups. If they're captured it could wind up the whole network. Still, if you remove this person you give terrorism a massive shock that sets it back quite a bit. It may be a while before anyone emerges to take their place."  
"Is there anyone in particular we should be checking out?"
 "There's no-one at the moment, apart from maybe this guy."  Louwisch switched on an overhead projector. On the wall screen appeared a photograph of a short middle-aged man, with slightly Mongoloid features, in the garb of a Muslim cleric. He looked harmless and indeed rather jolly.  
 "His name's Li Tan. He's an important figure, probably the most important one, in the Muslim community in China. Up until now China's Muslims haven't figured much in the war against terror. They're anycase a bit of an unknown quantity. But there are terrorist acts which it is alleged have been carried out by them. And recently Li Tan has become a bit more active. He's been visiting Muslim groups over here, as well as in France, Holland, Germany, Scandinavia and Britain. Why that is, we don't know."
"What do we know about him?"
 "Virtually nothing. He's never been a direct threat to the West, though he may or may not have been responsible for certain incidents in China, so we haven't been keeping him under surveillance. In any case it'd be difficult, if not impossible, to get the co-operation of the Chinese government for that sort of thing, bearing in mind their whole attitude to the war on terror. But I don't think the Chinese Muslims figure much in al-Qaeda's plans. They know it's not safe to antagonise China at the same time as the West, so they're leaving well alone right now."
"Has Li Tan said anything particularly provocative?"
 "Not that we know of. As I said we haven't been keeping him under surveillance. He hasn't done anything that isn't perfectly reasonable and permissible. He did pay a visit to a British Muslim called Abu Kassem, who's suspected of links with al-Qaeda. Kassem is notorious for making anti-Western statements, and has openly gloated over September 11th and other terrorist atrocities in which Americans died. He's also said Jews are the off-spring of the devil and should be "destroyed with fire." It all got a bit too much for the Brits and he's now been deported. Thing is, on the occasion they met Li Tan seems to have criticised him for inciting hatred, telling him it was un-Islamic and would just bring trouble to Muslims. He later denounced him openly at a news conference. I guess that means he's in the clear."
"It could have been a bluff," Sternhold said.
 "We don't want to get too suspicious," cautioned Lascelles.  "There's no reason to suppose Li Tan's anger wasn't genuine.  There are good Muslims in the world, you know. And why shouldn't Muslims in different countries keep in touch with one another?"
 "But surely it's significant that he's suddenly started shooting abound the place like this?"
 "Maybe. But it doesn't look like it. There's no reason to suppose he's doing anything more than what he says he is; trying to get Muslims to agree on how to present a positive view of themselves to the West. We'd be going too far if we started monitoring him without reasonable grounds for suspicion, and it'd also be a waste of resources. So I think we should leave Mr Li Tan alone for the time being." Lascelles glanced briefly at the photograph. "I mean, look at him. I somehow don't think there's much to worry about anyway."

They'd been watching the house, on and off, for some time now. They thought the woman had gone away, although they couldn't be quite sure. If she was in, they could deal with her without any difficulty. It made little difference either way; whatever happened, the job had to be done sometime. 
 It was around two o'clock in the morning when their car pulled up outside no 22 Laburnum Cottages in Ditchingfield.  Dressed in black tracksuits, the two men got out and crept round the back of the house. One carried a bag containing all the tools they would need for the job, including a bottle of chloroform for use on the woman should they find her inside. 
 They had the equipment to beat the alarm systems without any difficulty. Once they'd done that they found the back door, picked the lock and slipped silently into the house. 
 Inside, they moved about with their usual stealthiness. Their first task was to take care of Marjorie Harriman. They climbed the stairs to her bedroom, pushed open the door and stepped in, flashing their torches. The beams of light fell on an empty bed.   
"She's gone."
"We'd better make sure. She could have been downstairs and nodded off." 
 They went back down and tried the living room. No sooner had they stepped inside than they froze instantly, rooted to the floor in shock, as someone yelled out "Now!" 
 There was a flurry of movement as dark figures jumped up from the floor and rushed at them. Then the light came on, flooding the room. It happened so fast that the burglars barely had time to react. One was brought down as Detective Inspector Derek Slate threw himself at his legs. The other stood his ground, whipping out his pistol, but before he could use it two more officers had leapt on him and wrestled him to the floor. A third wrenched the gun from his hand. The captives' arms were twisted behind their backs and their hands cuffed.  
 They yelled in rage and poured forth obscenities as the policemen knelt on top of them, pinning them down. The remaining officer was shouting excitedly into his radio. "We've got them!"   
"Right, we're on our way," replied his colleague.
 By the time the van had arrived the two criminals had ceased struggling, though they still growled insults from time to time. Slate, Thompson and their colleagues dragged them to their feet as the officers from the van surrounded them.  
 "Let's see who we've got, then," said Slate. He yanked off the balaclava mask from one of the thugs.  
 Thompson did the same with the other. "Black bastard," snarled the man, spitting full in his face.  
 Slate studied the two men with interest. He was sure he'd seen them before somewhere, or their photographs. The feeling began to stir within him that he might be on to something.  
    
*

Scotland Yard, office of Detective Inspector Derek Slate
Slate scanned the file, comparing the photographs within with those taken of the two men arrested while attempting to burgle Marjorie Harriman's house. He looked up at Thompson.
 "It's them all right," he grinned. "Barry Baker and Dwane Willis. Both known associates of Derek Bridger. They've been banged up in the past, for beating people up on Bridger's orders."
 Bridger was one of the London underworld's most vicious characters, a thug with a record of fraud, robbery, extortion and GBH going back forty years. In all probability he was a murderer too, though it had never been proved. He had already spent a good deal of his life in prison, and by Slate's reckoning ought to have spent more. It was rumoured he had associates in high places who had succeeded in getting the sentence reduced. He was now approaching sixty, but still an active criminal if the stories were to be believed. 
 "I doubt if they'll squeal," said Thompson. "They'd be too terrified of Bridger. What about the man himself?"  
 Slate stood up, rubbing his hands. "We may as well have a go. I'm determined to find out what this is all about before I die."
 Marjorie Harriman had mentioned some important document tucked away in her loft, which perhaps Jeffrey had told his kidnappers about. But he wouldn't have known what it was because the box wasn't to be opened for another few years, and there were far more obviously valuable things in the house. In fact, if they'd wanted money they could simply have tried to ransom Jeffrey, but they hadn't.
 The document sounded like something that might be valuable, and certainly interesting, but probably not worth much from the point of view of money alone, or Jeffrey's great-grandfather would have wanted the family to have it immediately. In any case Baker and Willis denied it had been the reason for the burglary. But was that because they were trying to protect the people behind the whole business, for fear of reprisal if they didn't?
 None of it made sense to Slate and Thompson. But Slate's anger at the kidnapping had been increased by the inability to get anything out of Baker or Willis, and this only made him all the more determined to know the truth.  


NINE
To cement Yu Chen's latest trade deal with the British government a banquet was held in the Long Parlour at the Mansion House, a vast room little altered since the building was completed in 1752. It had ornately panelled walls and ceiling and a grand marble chimneypiece, and smelt of varnished wood, polish and disinfectant.
 After the meal came the speeches. The Trade Minister gave a rather flowery summary of Anglo-Chinese relations over the past hundred years, referring obliquely to certain "ups and downs" and lauding the fact that relations between the two countries were now so much better. Yu Chen just sat there smiling patiently. All throughout the proceedings he had behaved towards his hosts with a quiet courtesy, inclining his head graciously whenever complimented. He spoke rarely, and when he did speak his voice was so soft as to be barely audible. When not engaging in conversation he surveyed the room and its occupants with polite interest. 
 A certain member of the Royal Family was conspicuous by his absence. The chair in which he would have sat was embarrassingly empty, although it didn't seem to disconcert Yu Chen. The Royal Personage, who was known for saying or at least indicating what he thought on controversial issues, had pulled out in protest at the Chinese government's record on human rights.  
 When the last speech had been delivered more wine was served. As he sipped at his Burgundy Donald Bradbury MP thought of the group of chanting protestors gathered on the pavement outside, whose voices could at times be faintly heard above the chatter of the diners. It reminded him that there were a lot of people, in both China and the West, who objected to the principle of alliance with a totalitarian regime which brutally suppressed any moves towards democracy. Memories of Tiananmen Square were still fresh.
 He'd come along for the food and because his position on the board of a leading aerospace company, which had come to matter increasingly more to him than his seat in parliament, demanded it. The company had itself just concluded a particularly lucrative deal with the Chinese. 
 "This is all very well," he said to the man seated next to him, with whom he had been at school and remained on cordial terms. "But I find myself asking − are they really our friends now?"
 Paul Hoskiss' eyebrows lifted quizzically. "It's just that I never know what they're thinking," Bradbury explained. "There's...there's something about them." They thought differently from Europeans, he mused. They must do, when their language had no plurals and they read it from right to left instead of left to right. It was a mindset that to him came across as alien.  
 "I can tell you what they're thinking," Hoskiss said. "They're thinking, "Let's keep on good terms with them until we're strong enough to boss the whole show." If in the meantime they have to be an equal partner rather than a dominant one, they don't mind. They'll simply try to get what they can out of the relationship until the time comes when they’re able to dictate terms.
 "Yes, the Chinese are biding their time. They're sensible enough to keep out of everyone else's quarrels for the moment and not get their hands dirty. That's why they've refused all invitations to join in this "war on terror". Their defence spending has gone up a lot lately, but despite the occasional martial noises from Beijing I doubt if any of the hardware is meant to be used aggressively. Not just yet anyway. Their strategy is to let the rest of the world annihilate each other and then dominate what remains, politically and economically."
 He paused to take another sip of Liebfraumilch. "They've always had a contempt for other people. Racism in China is endemic. One of them's been heard to remark that there was none there because they didn't have any black people. Although there must be some, because back in '88 there was a massive street protest against them dating Chinese women. They insist it's a foreign problem. Homosexuality's also a "foreign problem". Anything that's thought to be bad is someone else's fault, never theirs.   
 "Being Chinese is defined by blood, not nationality, which means their ethnic minorities are always going to be frozen out to a degree. It also means people who are half- or a quarter-Chinese don't get Chinese nationality, even if they were born in Hong Kong, say, and have lived there all their lives. Beijing refused to grant them citizenship when the colony was returned to China, which left them stateless. In private and in public, as long as they're not in someone else's country, they're always talking about the importance of racial purity.  
 "They're proud of their historical pedigree, their longevity as a civilisation, which is OK in itself. But it makes them very superior. In the past they believed their country was the centre of the world; they ruled the Earth by virtue of their superiority and everyone else owed them obedience.  They just didn't think they needed to assert that dominance because (a) it ought to be self-evident and (b) it meant they were unassailable. They still look down on other people and their quarrels with contempt.
 "They got a bit of a shock later on when they encountered the military might of the European empires in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and only just managed to avoid being carved up between those powers. But they still think they're better than any of us and that it's their destiny eventually to achieve true world domination."
"I don't suppose they're much worse than anybody else," Bradbury objected.
 "Maybe not. But it's their power, their potential power, that makes them dangerous. And frightening. I tell you, they're waiting for some great disaster to wipe out the rest of the world so they can take over. Now I recall it, Nostradamus does say something about the yellow races inheriting the Earth.
 "During the 50s when the Cold War was at its height and people were starting to get alarmed about the possibility of nuclear war, Mao argued that it wasn't anything to worry about because whatever happened the Chinese would survive. Half the human race would be wiped out but imperialism would perish with it and the Chinese would go on to build a world socialist civilisation. Except that it's no longer socialism they worship, just themselves.
 "When there was a major earthquake in 1976, which devastated one of China's major cities, they're said to have treated the relief measures that were put into operation as a rehearsal for coping with the aftermath of a nuclear war. And under Beijing there's supposed to be all kinds of secret tunnels and bunkers where the population can take shelter."
 "I'll agree with you on one thing," Bradbury said, as his friend paused for breath. "I don't think Communism ever made any difference to their basic character, or their basic priorities. It was the same in Russia. Just an expression of the national will, or at any rate that of the ruling elite. Which was to preserve the nation against external aggression, out of fear and distrust of your neighbours. Misunderstanding."
 Hoskiss nodded. "And the people have always obeyed their leaders blindly, except when times are particularly hard. It's traditional, and tradition is incredibly important to the Chinese mind. I've been reading a lot lately about Chinese history, Chinese philosophy. Confucius says you should do what your rulers say however tyrannical they are, and successive regimes have exploited that, the Communists as much as the imperial dynasties although in other ways they were quite content to destroy the traditional Chinese way of life, like in the Cultural Revolution.
 "I don't think," he went on, "that they were concerned to interfere much in the affairs of other countries except when they felt their own security, or their cultural integrity, depended on it. But they were certainly hostile towards the West. And they did develop their own nuclear capability."  When the Soviet Union, as it had then been, got cold feet about the idea of China having the bomb, withdrawing its technical advisers from the country in 1960, the Chinese ingeniously pieced together the documents they had shredded and by 1964 had successfully built and tested their own atomic device, to be followed by their first hydrogen bomb in June 1967. By the end of the 1970s China had stockpiled hundreds of nuclear weapons for either strategic or tactical use. And her advances in the field of rocketry had been demonstrated with the launch of her first satellite in 1970. 
 "I think it was designed mainly for use against Russia, or some hostile power in the South-East Asian region," Bradbury said. "They didn't get on very well with the Soviets much of the time; you remember all those border disputes. It's essentially a second-strike deterrent which can do a lot of damage to an aggressor, but isn't designed for use in a pre-emptive attack against somewhere like London or Washington. It doesn't have the range, and I'm not sure they'd want to do it anyway. Plus they've never quite developed an effective delivery system, and there've been all sorts of technical problems which have prevented them fully deploying their ICBMs and SLBMs."  
 In the past, whereas Europeans had always sought to dominate the natural world and mould it to their requirements, a process which involved change, the Chinese preferred to emphasise the stability and continuity of things, believing too much progress destroyed the essential organic harmony of the universe. They invented things only so they could use them in particular circumstances. Hence the comparative failure, in recent times, of China to modernise and the way the West acquired the lead in perfecting techniques whose original conception was Chinese. The Chinese had always been good at inventing new technology, or imitating it, but not at applying it. This might explain their failure to be as dangerous in terms of nuclear capability as certain others. But they didn't need to be, if Hoskiss' theory was correct.
 "They're a highly disciplined workforce with an excellent health service, they work a six-day week without complaint from 9 in the morning to 9 at night...they're suited to dominate. By comparison we're pampered and spoilt, and confused by the conflicting pressures, conflicting desires, within our society. Always worrying about the future, or alternately living for the day without taking steps to protect ourselves from what's around the corner.  The Chinese by contrast are timeless. So they don't worry quite so much."  Hoskiss gazed across the room at Yu Chen. ""China is a sleeping giant. Let her lie and sleep, for when she awakens she will astonish the world.""  
"That sounds like a quote."
"From Napoleon."
 "It seems she's been lying and sleeping for a very long time. If she's going to astonish the world, why doesn't she get on with it?"
 "I told you," said Hoskiss, "they've got infinite patience.  Although you could say it's happening already. Look at how their economy's booming. How many companies send their materials and equipment to China to be checked.
 "I don't know whether to marvel at it or be worried." He finished the last of his drink and rose a little shakily to his feet. The guests were starting to leave now. "It's an intriguing question, but I haven't the time to worry about it right now. I've got to be getting home." The two men said goodbye to one another, promising to keep in touch, and then Bradbury was left with his thoughts.

TEN
Scotland Yard
In interview room 3 Derek Bridger gazed defiantly across the table at Inspector Slate and Detective-Sergeant Thompson.
 Slate leaned back in his chair. "Let me tell you why you're here, Derek," he said amiably. "Seems it was some thugs who'd worked for you in the past did that kidnapping job out west.  Barry Baker and Dwane Willis. They've just been caught trying to break into the boy's mother's house. They won't say what they were looking for or who hired them to do the job, but we're certain you were behind it."
 "You've nothing on me," Bridger replied calmly. "They might have done things for me a couple of times, it's true. But that was years ago. I haven't seen them since the mid-nineties."
 Slate ignored this. "Ever since we realised there must be a connection, we've been making a few enquiries into your affairs. It seems that just after the kidnapping the amount of cash in your bank account went up rather suddenly."  
 "That was for something different," Bridger said. "Not that you're ever gonna know what it is," he added hurriedly.
 "I think you're inventing crimes to cover up what you have done."
"You can't prove anything," Bridger sneered.
 "I can prove some things, Derek," said Slate, and nodded Thompson his cue. The DS leaned forward and stared straight into Bridger's eyes. "You're a pimp, aren't you Derek?  That's how you get your living these days. By importing poor little Yugoslav girls and making them sell their bodies 24 hours a day, mostly for your benefit, beating them up or worse if they dare to ask for a bigger share of the profits.
 "The one whose bits and pieces they've been fishing out of the river these last few days. Not long before she disappeared she made contact with a women's refuge. She'd decided to give it up, to go straight, and you were scared she'd tell everyone about your little operation so you had her killed. I expect she knew your face because you'd made use of her facilities plenty of times, probably knocked her about a bit because she wouldn't give you a blow job.
 "It's a shame from your point of view that you had to hire some stupid kid whose brain was scrambled by drugs, who wasn't thinking straight, to do the job. He let slip some interesting clues."  
 Slate spoke again, his voice so cold and harsh that for a moment Bridger was actually frightened. "The thing is, you probably didn't have anything to worry about. The poor little sod was so afraid of you and your thugs she wouldn't speak to anyone about what she'd been through. And yet you killed her."
Bridger returned his gaze impassively.  
 The policeman's mouth tightened, his eyes narrowed. "Where's the kid, Derek? What have you done to him?"
"I don't know what you mean," said Bridger quietly.
 Slate gritted his teeth. "Murder is even worse than kidnapping, Del. You stand a good chance of being banged up anyway, this time for good. You've got nothing to lose by telling the truth. If you do, there might just be some chance of reducing the sentence so you can have a few years of freedom before you turn up your toes. The girl's already dead, but Jeffrey Harriman might still be alive somewhere and if there's the slightest chance we can get him back safely I'm going to take it. Where is he, Derek?"
 Slate waited while Bridger sat silently considering the offer that had just been made to him, his head slightly bowed. Eventually the ganglord looked up.
 "I don't know where he is," he said. "Honest. We were just told to grab him from the boarding house, take him to this warehouse place near the airport and leave him there sedated."
"Who told you to do that?"    
 Bridger meditated sourly on his situation. He still felt anger that Chinese villains should be in the business of kidnapping Westerners. He'd gone along with it because it would be profitable, and they were blackmailing him, but now he'd been caught...
"All right," he said. "It was a couple of Chinks hired me to do it."
"Two Chinese people?"
"That's what I said."
"Male or female?"
"Both blokes."
"Can you describe either of them?" asked Slate.
 Bridger pursed his lips, and after a moment gave a helpless shrug. "Sorry, haven't a clue where to start. They all look the fucking same to me."

Their prayers completed, Ahmed al-Kursaali and Fereydoun Khambatti climbed a little stiffly to their feet. They had been at it for some time. Both now felt totally refreshed, justified in what they aimed to do and fortified in their resolve to carry it out. 
 Ahmed rolled up the prayer mats and returned them to the place on the shelf which they occupied when not needed.  "Now, my brother, there is something we must talk about," he said to Fereydoun.
"Is it about Samira?"
"Yes. Does she suspect anything?"
 "I don't think so." Not that he had seen very much of his fiancee the last few weeks.
"We must make sure things stay that way," al-Kursaali said.
 Fereydoun planted himself on the sofa and sat there looking deeply unhappy. "What is the matter?" asked his companion.
 "I have been thinking. Is it right I should sacrifice my life − I who am about to get married? It is bad enough that we should be deceiving her at all. But when she hears that I have killed myself, and deprived her of her future husband...and that I had been planning to do it for some time..."
 When al-Kursaali responded to Fereydoun's confession of his fears his voice was genuinely kind. "You do not have to do it, my friend, if you do not wish to," he smiled. "There are other ways in which you can help the cause. You could buy the equipment, or survey the target zone." 
 Fereydoun's shoulders slumped in relief. Then he sighed despairingly, his face clouding again. "Is it wise to continue with the relationship, though? It is going to make things difficult should she find out." His face brightened as a new idea occurred to him. "Could we not try to persuade her to join us?"
 al-Kursaali shook his head, and an expression not quite of contempt, but near enough to it, came over his face. "She wouldn't. Samira's got too deep in the ways of the infidel, she's friends with many of them. If we told her what we were doing she'd only shop us to the police. At least, we don't want to risk it."
 The doorbell rang, and with a brief gesture of apology al-Kursaali went to answer it. He opened the door and immediately gave a start. 
  Samira stood on the step, looking more than a little angry. "Can I come in?" she asked with icy politeness.  
"Er, yeah, sure," mumbled al-Kursaali.
 She stepped through into the hallway, shutting the door behind her. "You don't look very pleased to see me."
"I don't know what you mean," he protested.
 She caught sight of Fereydoun standing a little way behind her brother and made for him, brushing curtly past Ahmed.  She clasped both his hands and kissed him. "How are you?" 
"I’m OK," Fereydoun replied, managing a smile. "And yourself?"
"All right," she answered, and then pointedly added, "sort of."
"How do you mean? Is anything wrong?" 
 For the moment Samira ignored him, turning back to her brother. "I haven't seen very much of you lately. Have I?"
"I've been busy," said Ahmed. "Got a lot of things to do."
 The banality of his words annoyed her. She drew herself up stiffly, locking her eyes with his. "Look. You've been like a stranger to me the last few months. You haven't rung me or been to visit and whenever I've invited you out for a meal with the family there's always been a very good reason why you can't come. I just don't know what's going on."
 Ahmed smiled benevolently. "You don't want to be bothered with me," he said in self-deprecating fashion. "You've got Fereydoun now." He jerked his head towards Khambatti.
 "Does that mean we should forget the family into which we were born? Our mothers, and fathers, and brothers? That's never been our way." She softened her tone a little. "Ahmed, is there something wrong? Something it might help to talk about?"
 "Not really. It's just that I've been spending a lot of time on this course that helps you get back into work." He could hardly tell her that she had seen so little of him because he and his associates had been busy steeling themselves for their forthcoming sacrifice, through mutual prayer, pep talks and the viewing of videos in which Osama bin Laden and his kind exhorted them to gain martyrdom by slaughtering infidels in large numbers.   
 Fortunately she didn't ask him whether this course was so intensive that it went on not only all day, every day, but into the evenings and weekends too. "Like I said," she snorted, pulling a face. "There's always an excuse." She turned sharply to Fereydoun. "And you! You're not much better. I've hardly seen you either, and yet we're supposed to be getting married. You've spent all your time with him and his friends, haven't you? What are you all up to together, that's what I'd like to know."
 "I have been busy with my work. And with our marriage coming up soon I have been spending much of my time in prayer. If I am to take on for the first time the role of husband and father, I will need guidance."
 "I think you're allowed some time with me," Samira said.  She transferred her attention back to Ahmed. "We're all very worried about it, I can tell you." 
 She took a deep breath and looked at him imploringly. "I want you to come round to Mum and Dad's with me," she said, "Tonight. Aunt Leila and Uncle Saeed will be there as well, and all our cousins. It'll be really great. Go on, Ahmed.  Mum and Dad will be pleased to see you; they've been very upset at the way things are."
Ahmed frowned. "Maybe," he said indistinctly.
"There's not much time for you to make up your mind in," she pointed out. 
 He sighed. "Look, Samira, I can't do it just yet. One day, perhaps. In the meantime I'm just too busy. I'll talk to you later, OK? Give me a call sometime."
"We'll talk about it now."
 "I told you I'm busy." He tried to steer her towards the door. "Goodbye now. Send all the folks my love."
 Furious, Samira turned appealingly to Fereydoun. "You try and get some sense into him. He's never too busy to talk to you."
 Fereydoun said nothing; he just shifted awkwardly, looking embarrassed. Samira regarded him in disgust. He had the decency to hang his head a little.
 "You should be ashamed of yourself," she snapped. Indignantly breaking away from Ahmed she stormed to the door, flung it open and stalked out of the house without bothering to shut it behind her, wiping away the moisture that had started to form in one eye.

Interview Room 3, Scotland Yard
Derek Bridger had not been able to describe in detail the two Chinese men who had commissioned the Harriman kidnapping job from him, but that didn't necessarily mean he wouldn't recognise them if he saw them again.  In fact, he remembered having spied one of them quite a few times in the past, in and around Soho and especially the part of it popularly referred to as Chinatown. Popping into one of the many Chinese restaurants, or through the doors of one of the seamier establishments for which the district is renowned. Anything else you can tell us about him?" asked Derek Slate.
"No. I'd done business with Chinks in the past, but not these two."
 "Uh-huh. All right, then. Now I still need to know, why did Baker and Willis break into Marjorie Harriman's house? Were you trying to get her as well?"
 "They threatened they'd shop us, or worse, if we told anyone what it was for. Like with the snatch job, I said it was no skin off my nose as long as I got paid, and Barry and Dwane felt much the same way."  
"Nothing to do with a tin box in the attic?"
"I dunno what you're talking about."
 "I see. Well I tell you what, Derek, we'll leave that side of the business for the moment. Let's try and find out who it was that hired you for the job."
 They knew they must concentrate their efforts on London's Chinese community. Since that community was relatively small, compared to Britain's Asian and Afro-Caribbean populations, their task would be fairly easy. They would set their informers within it to work, telling them to keep their eyes peeled for any possible clues. Meanwhile, there were other ways to prosecute the matter.
 "We three," began Slate, "are going to take a little walk around Soho. Let's see if we can spot our man, shall we?  Mike, get someone to check out the strip joints, knocking shops and all that. He's to make sure they don't panic when they see he's police. And we want Bob Morris with us, he needs to get some experience of these jobs."
 "I hope you blokes realise I'm going to be in trouble if those Chinks see I'm helping you," complained Bridger.
 "Not half as much trouble as you'll be in if you don't," hissed Slate. They had to get results in this case, and fast. If members of the Chinese community were seen to be kidnapping and murdering whites − more importantly, innocent whites who didn't have the slightest connection with crime − then by Slate's reckoning they had a political problem on their hands. The mere revelation that it had happened would cause racial tension. But things would be far worse if the police weren't seen to be doing anything about it.  
 "I want your promise I'll be safe from him. I don't want his friends coming round my place and carving me up."
"Perhaps you'd like to stay in prison a bit longer?" Slate suggested kindly.
"Fuck off," Bridger scowled.  
 "Suit yourself. So, we're going to stake out a few of this guy's old haunts. Fancy a bit of Chinese food?"
 By the look on his face Bridger didn't seem to find the prospect appetising.  
"You do?” said Slate. “Good. Let's be on our way, then."  

On returning home from college that evening Samira said her prayers and then positioned herself by the phone, trying to psych herself up for the coming confrontation and reflecting on how things had been before something, she knew not what it was, had taken Fereydoun from her.   
 Though many Muslim marriages were arranged, it had not been so with Samira and Fereydoun. They'd met at a gathering which had been held at Samira's mosque, and as it had broken up he had tentatively asked if they could see each other again.  Though a little unsure, she had quite got to like him and decided it would be worth accepting his proposal, to see what came of it.  
 They had been sensible enough to give it time; and in that time fell in love with one another. Fereydoun saw her as a compassionate, friendly, sensible girl; she hoped she lived up to that estimate, while feeling sure that she detected the same qualities in him. 
 He was quiet and thoughtful yet had a sharp sense of humour which she liked. Everyone spoke well of him. Her parents had been pretty well satisfied with her choice; Fereydoun was a hard worker who would provide well for his wife and children, as well as the sort who would treat them with respect.   
 She had been looking forward to the wedding and the subsequent party, and to fulfilling the role of wife and mother. Sharing the difficulties and the pleasures of life with her husband. Helping run the home together, undertaking household tasks jointly, as was the Muslim way.  
 But no sooner had they succeeded in getting to know each other fully than everything was suddenly bent out of shape. Shortly after being introduced to her brother at a family gathering, Fereydoun had changed. He spoke little when they were together, and whenever the chance came to involve himself in something from which she as a woman would be excluded he took it. It was quite clear that he didn't want to talk to her. 
 His withdrawn, almost miserable demeanour curiously mirrored Ahmed's. And occasionally both were snappy and irritable, treating her with a roughness you weren't supposed to show towards a woman. If she could understand why it was happening she might be able to do something about it; but she didn't understand.   
 She could back out of the engagement if she wanted to. She was not obliged to respect him if he was up to anything unIslamic. But if it was not a case of that then she would have to put up with his wishes, once they were married. And she didn't want to be trapped in a relationship where there was no real love, or something was preventing one of the partners from expressing it. 
She had thought it was going to be so good. 
 For her brother as well as her prospective husband to drift away from her like this was particularly painful. The more so since they had always been close, right from when they were small children and she had defended her younger sibling against other boys and girls, Muslim or non-Muslim, who'd tried to bully him. 
 They had both been brought up in the proper Islamic way; their parents had been stern but compassionate, making sure their children had a good education which would prepare them to earn a living. Neither had wanted for anything in the way of parental affection, though their father had perhaps been a little too strict with Ahmed on occasions. And as an adult Ahmed had encountered no difficulties in forming relationships. He had always seemed happy to her; there was nothing to give a clue as to why he should now withdraw into himself so utterly.
 Deciding she had wallowed in her maudlin thoughts for long enough, Samira reached for the phone. She knew she had to do it sometime and that time might as well be now.
"Hello?"
"Ahmed, it's me."
She heard the click as he put the phone down.
 Immediately she dialled his number again, quite undaunted. The same thing happened.
 She rang him a third time, and for the third time he cut her off. 
 It went on for some minutes until finally she heard him say wearily, "Look, Samira..."
 "You look. I'm not going to give this up, you understand?  I'm going to keep on hassling you until you start being a bit more sociable. There's another get-together at Mum and Dad's on the 25th, and I want you to come. It's your chance to patch things up."
 She waited patiently while he chewed on this. "OK," he said eventually, breathing out long and hard. "You win. If you're that bothered about it, sister, I'll do it."
 "I'd be very pleased if you would." Her tone changed. "Just once, OK Ahmed. Just once. That's all I'm asking. And tell Fereydoun I want him there too, alright?"
"I will."
 "Great. Well, I'll expect to see you there then. Do you want me to pick you up?"
"No, that's all right."
"OK. um...see you."
"Goodbye, Samira."
 She put down the receiver, a grim smile tightening her lips. 
She'd got what she wanted; or at least, that was what it looked like. Only time would tell whether her brother would keep to his promise.
 A reason why he might have been so distant of late suddenly occurred to her, and she felt herself go cold. She hadn't really considered it before, but that was only because she didn't want to.
 She dismissed the notion from her mind. There was no proof, she told herself. No proof.  
 For his part Ahmed al-Kursaali contemplated the forthcoming engagement without enthusiasm. It was just what he didn't want. The more contact he had with his family the more likely it was they'd pick up things which would give them a clue to what he was up to. But on the other hand, they'd be more likely to wonder the longer he remained oddly distant from them. 
 Despite his resentment he knew that in the end there would have been no option but to give in to Samira's pleadings.  He'd just have to put on a bit of an act, that was all. 

The area was a maze of narrow streets and little alleyways, running between dingy tenement blocks housing a multitude of strip clubs, sex shops and peepshows, each with a flashing neon sign advertising its wares. And brothels, whose doors stood open to reveal notices on the wall by the stairs giving the nationality, hair colour and vital statistics of the inmates, or had signs beside them which read "Lovely Model, Come Upstairs"; "Young Model: Please ring". Occasionally the madam or one of the girls could be seen standing in the doorway inviting customers with hand signals or body language to sample the delights within. Beyond, Slate knew, shadowy staircases led up to small but nicely furnished apartments where intercourse of one kind or another could be had for an average price of thirty pounds.  
 The place was seedy but it did have a certain character, which might be lost if the authorities ever succeeded in cleaning it up. It was also getting more and more nasty. These days the vast majority of the prostitutes were foreigners from Eastern Europe, brutally exploited by their pimps. Although Slate had never engaged their services himself he understood that an encounter with one of these girls was not a cheerful affair. Their grasp of English was poor and they often did not understand their customers' requirements; most of the time you probably got conned.  
 They hung around for a while inside a club where Bridger said their quarry spent quite a bit of time, but he didn't show. Like red-blooded males the policemen took the opportunity to eye up the talent, while reminding themselves that it would be a case of looking but not touching.
 Eventually they moved on, their perambulations taking them gradually into Chinatown. As they drew level with the door of one of the restaurants Bridger halted. "I've often seen him go in here." 
 They went in, found a table and waited for their order to be taken, affecting an idle curiosity as they scanned the room in the hope of spotting the man they were after.
 "That's him," Slate heard Bridger say. Following his gaze, they saw two Chinamen seated at a table on the far side of the room, conversing quietly over their meal of fried rice and sweet and sour pork, which they ate with chopsticks. One of them did not look particularly distinguished, the other most certainly did, partly because of his immense height. Both were smartly dressed in Western business suits and ties.  
 ("The house will probably be watched from now on," the tall man was saying, although Slate and his companions couldn't hear him from where they sat. "It would probably be best not to return there for the time being.")
"Who?" Slate asked Bridger. "The tall guy?"
"No, the other one."
 "And you've no idea who his friend might be? Just in case it turns out to be important."
"No, but I've seen them together before."
 From time to time Slate glanced in the diners' direction.  Once they happened to glance in his; he averted their gaze with a smile and went back to his meal.
 A little later they saw the two Chinese get up, nod politely to a nearby waiter and leave. The three policemen finished their meal, then departed with their prisoner. 
 Once they were back in the car Slate smiled benignly at Bridger. "Right, that's it. I don't think we require your services any more, Derek."
 "You'll pull a few strings for me, then?" Bridger asked eagerly.
 Slate's eyebrows shot up, and he assumed a look of innocent astonishment. "Was that what I said? Good Lord. I don't remember saying that. Do you remember me saying that, Mike?"
 Thompson shook his head. "No, Guv," he said solemnly. "I can't say I do."
Bob Morris shrugged. "Me neither."
 Bridger's eyes flashed and he spewed forth a stream of obscenities. Then Thompson snapped the handcuffs around his wrist and he slumped back in bitter resignation, face twisting in a scowl.
 Slate turned to other business. "Did either of you recognise them?" he asked his colleagues.
 Morris frowned. "The smaller one's face looked familiar.  I'm sure he's on our files somewhere." Morris had a good memory for faces, whoever's they were, and would be able to match a photograph with the man he had seen in the restaurant.    
Slate nodded. "And the other guy?"
 "I think I've seen him on telly once or twice," said Mike Thompson. "He's big business; I'm not quite sure of his name. Been building a lot of plants here; keen to forge new links between China and the West. I think he’s called Yu Chen, or something like that. Tell you something, though, I'd remember him if I saw him again."
"So would I," murmured Slate. 
 He recollected that even Bridger, the hard, vicious gang leader, had been unable to suppress a shiver of dread on seeing the man.
 Normally, the members of one race tend to look alike to those of another. But Yu Chen had certainly stood out. Slate wasn't sure what it was exactly. He wasn’t the stereotypical Chinese criminal mastermind of popular fiction. He didn't have a long stringy moustache, a short neatly trimmed and pointed beard, or eyebrows that arched sharply to almost meet above the bridge of his nose. But he was surely a six-footer, much taller than the average for an Oriental; God, how that must enable him to dominate within his own community, Slate thought. His thinning brown hair was combed back sleekly from a broad domed forehead which inevitably suggested considerable intelligence. But most of all there was his face; a strange, masklike face which nonetheless reflected clearly the kind of personality that lay behind it. In its lines were cruelty, of a kind anyway; and immense, awesome power. 
 Slate wasn't at all superstitious, nor easily scared. But just for a moment as he took in the man's appearance, the thought which had flashed through his mind was that Yu Chen looked like the devil.

ELEVEN
It was a beautiful summer's day, and the Principal of West Middlesex College of Further Education, where Fereydoun Khambatti was a mature student, had decided to cancel afternoon lessons so that everyone could take advantage of the fine weather. The entire student population seemed to be gathered in the grounds of the building, sitting or lying soaking up the blazing July sunshine. The air rang with the cheerful chatter of young people enjoying themselves.
 Fereydoun was a hard worker, but as his studies were going well at the moment, and he considered it a sin not to enjoy days like these as much as possible whenever Allah was good enough to send them, he decided to join everyone else out on the grass. 
 He wandered in and out of them looking for somewhere to sit down, his long white robe, a convenient means of keeping cool, flapping about him in the gentle summer breeze.  Eventually he found a patch that happened to be unoccupied and stretched out flat, smiling blissfully as he felt the beautiful heat wash over him.  
 It was too hot to think clearly, and the thoughts that did pulse sluggishly through his mind were somewhat disordered, jumbled memories of past events in his life some of which had been trivial, some important. A few concerned Samira, but he didn't let the question of what to do about her spoil his enjoyment of this pleasantly lazy day.
 His eyes wandered casually over those around him, his eye falling after a while on a black man who sat cross-legged on the grass not far away. He wore jeans and a T-shirt which bore a quotation from the chief of an American Indian tribe, something about the Earth not being a commodity to be sold but a gift, along with an illustration of the chief's lined and wise old face. The black man's hair hung down in Rasta-style dreadlocks. Fereydoun wasn't quite sure but he looked as if he was contemplating something on the ground; there was an expression on his face of calm, benign interest.
 He happened to glance up, and their eyes met. Solemnly the man raised his hand in salute. "How, brother."  
Fereydoun smiled back.  
 He was about to withdraw into his thoughts, but the weather had induced in him a sort of vague, casual amiability. "Are you a Muslim?" he enquired.
"'Fraid not," said the man sadly.
 Fereydoun gave a grim smile. "May Allah forgive you for not being a Muslim."
The black man gave a brief nod. "I'm sure He will."  
 The remark seemed to indicate some kind of religious conviction. "Are you a Christian?" Fereydoun enquired.
 "I was," said his companion. "Now I'm not sure if I believe or not. At the moment I'm a sort of Buddhist. I think God's in all of us, in all religions, provided we don't throw him out by living the wrong sort of life. And you're a Muslim?"
"Yes, I am Muslim."
 "That's not so bad. But you guys ought to chill out a bit more, stop thinking everyone's picking on you. Go to a few discos, take a hike down the pub every now and then for a glass of lemonade." He smiled in a way that showed he wasn't trying to mock.   
 "You have your culture and we have ours," said the Iranian.  "If we stay locked up in it all the time it is to protect ourselves. This is a very racist country." 
 "Bloody sight better than America. Despite the odd Colin Powell or Condy Rice. They don't mix half as much there as people do here."
"America." Fereydoun practically spat the word out.  
 The black man grinned. "You lot really can't stand them, can you? Thing is, if you start thinking some people are worse than others, that they're the bad guys and everyone else is good, it gets a bit like a fairy tale. You lose touch with reality."   
 His voice dropped a little as he went into reflective mode. "I don't know why the world's as it is; such a crazy, messed-up, violent place. But I can tell you one thing. Once I was full of bitterness. Despised because of my skin colour, denied a job. I was angry, did some things I shouldn't have...ended up in prison for a while. But I learnt that to solve all the world's problems it's not enough just to demand that the oppressors understand the oppressed. The oppressed  have to understand the oppressors. They're human beings, not demons. Sometimes there are reasons for what they do. They're afraid because their way of life is under threat. Or maybe somebody's threatened to harm them, or their family, if they don't beat you up or kill you or whatever. It often happens. Not here perhaps, but in China or Burma and places like that. It happened under Stalin and Hitler.
 "The way the world is, it makes some people the oppressors, the ones on top; and others the ones at the bottom – the oppressed. But we're all human beings and we all matter. I do think there's a God, or something like that, and we're all precious in its sight. 
 "The oppressed and the oppressor. The two sides of the coin, the two halves of the eggshell. The Yin and the Yang. Only when they are reconciled can we have peace and justice, and reconciliation only comes through mutual understanding and forgiveness." He eyed Fereydoun searchingly. "Don't you agree?" 
 Fereydoun thought of Israeli soldiers shooting dead Palestinian children, the hooded and bound prisoners at Guantanamara Bay, his sister being molested by yobs in Birmingham. "Maybe," he said vaguely. "Maybe."
 
The man Slate and Bridger had seen dining with Yu Chen had been identified as Bobby Wu, a prominent member of the Chinese criminal fraternity. Slate had concluded that there was enough justification for a raid on Wu's Mayfair flat, along with his other known hideouts. The raids had unearthed some highly incriminating material linking him to various murders within the Chinese community and one or two outside it. He had been arrested later that same day, and Slate was confident there was sufficient evidence to secure a life sentence. He persistently denied having organised the Harriman kidnap, however. Nonetheless the team were filled with a warm glow of satisfaction by their catch, feeling that if their investigations into Yu Chen got nowhere they would still have something pretty big to their credit. 
 Now DI Slate and DS Morris were paying a visit to Yu Chen at the London headquarters of his principal company, YC Finance and Investment Ltd, a towering office block in the City next door to the Nat West building. They were shown to his office on the top floor by a smiling, impeccably dressed Chinese employee. A voice called out in answer to his knock and he opened the door, announcing the two policemen with a polite nod to the room's occupant before withdrawing.  
 The two Yard men stepped inside. "Mr Yu Chen? DI Slate and DS Morris, Scotland Yard." 
 Yu Chen rose from behind his desk, nodding respectfully − a gesture they found themselves automatically returning − and came forward to greet them.
 He shook hands firmly and for much longer than people did in the West. "It's a great pleasure, gentlemen. You will take tea with me?" It was the first time Slate had clearly heard Yu Chen speak; his voice was soft and sibilant, with the occasional guttural stop. 
 Slate knew it would be impolite to refuse the offer. He glanced uncertainly at Morris, who nodded. "Er, yes, er, we'll have some tea, that's very kind of you," he said haphazardly. 
 Yu Chen gestured towards a couple of chairs. While Slate and Morris took their seats he busied himself at the Teasmade in the corner; it was rather charming, they thought, that he hadn't got someone to make it for him.  
 A little ill at ease, Slate cast a brief glance round the room. Like any other businessman's office in the West it had a desk with a computer on it, a couple of filing cabinets and a calendar on the wall. It was modestly furnished apart from a few Oriental antiques, vases and dragon statuettes, standing freely or positioned on little tables. Whether they were genuine or reproductions he'd no idea, but it was clear that in matters of decor Yu Chen had traditional tastes. The walls, ceiling and carpet were all green, of a shade neither light nor so harsh as to be unpleasing to the eye.  
 A bowl of flowers, which Slate was later to learn had probably been chrysanthemums, stood on the desk and there was a sweet, cloying smell in the air which suggested Yu Chen had been burning something. Slate thought he recognised it from a visit he'd once made to a Roman Catholic church when on holiday in Italy. Incense, surely.
 Yu Chen was turning to them with a cup of tea in each hand. The policemen took them with thanks, and Yu Chen sat down behind the desk, entwining his fingers. "Now what can I do for you, Detective Inspector?"
 "Mr Yu Chen, I'm afraid to say it appears one of your close associates has been involved in criminal activities." Slate described what they had found in Wu's flat. "We also suspect him of being involved in the Harriman kidnapping; you'll have heard about the business on the news, I guess."
 After the initial look of surprise and shock Yu Chen showed no alarm. "I am sorry to hear this," he said gravely.
 The policemen sipped at their green tea. It tasted strange, not a bit like what they were used to, but pleasant enough. A bit like Earl Grey, Slate decided.
 "We're not connecting you with the matter at all, Sir," Slate assured Yu Chen. "But we think there might have been someone above him, somebody who hired him to do it, and we just wondered if you knew anything." 
 Yu Chen seemed mildly offended. "I regret not, Mr Slate. If I had I would have gone straight to you."  
 "Of course, Sir. It's unlikely that he'd entrust you with all his best-kept secrets. But now we've told you all this I just wondered if anything he might have said to you, anything he may have let slip, comes to mind." There was just the right note of respectful authority in Slate's tone.  
 Yu Chen appeared to be considering this, but his inscrutable face gave no clue as to exactly what he was thinking. 
 "I'm afraid there is nothing," he said apologetically. "Wu was obviously careful to conceal his activities from even his closest associates."
 Slate nodded to show he accepted this answer. "What exactly is your connection with him, might I ask Sir?"
 "I had business dealings with him in Hong Kong, before he moved to this country. We became friends, and I thought it would be pleasant to keep up the acquaintance."
 "In what line of work did you have dealings with him, Mr Yu Chen?" Morris asked.
 "Investment and insurance. May I inquire how you knew of my relationship with him, Inspector?"
"Well, obviously we've been keeping a close watch on all Wu's activities."
 "Ah yes," smiled Yu Chen. "The restaurant. I think now I recognise you. Well, I suppose you were only doing your job.  But I am afraid there is nothing I can do to help you."
 "That's alright, Sir. Just as long as we can eliminate you from our enquiries." Slate made to get up.
 Yu Chen rose too. He personally escorted Slate and Morris from the building, all the time making polite conversation about the weather, the policemen's families, or the current state of world politics.
 "That was a cool one, right enough," Morris remarked once they were back in the car.
 "Well, we didn't really think we'd get anywhere, did we?" Slate said. They'd had no evidence whatsoever to implicate Yu Chen in the kidnapping, or any of Wu's other crimes. And Yu Chen knew they hadn't, or they wouldn't have made the visit as it would have suggested the net might be closing in, perhaps with unfortunate consequences for Jeffrey Harriman if Chen was the one holding him. It had been as a matter of course as well as on the offchance that they might learn something. They hadn't. It was quite possible Chen was totally innocent. 
 Of course enquiries had been made into his character and background. He appeared perfectly respectable, and if acquainted with underworld figures was not unique among prominent businessmen in that respect. He had been born in 1956 in the Chinese province of Sichuan, the son of a tax official and a schoolteacher. His parents died in the Cultural Revolution and he was then adopted by an uncle who brought him up as a loyal Communist Party member − not that he could have been brought up any other way, in those days.  At the age of sixteen he had taken a job as a steelworker and subsequently worked his way to the top by sheer brains and determination, becoming manager of the state-owned plant. After they decided to relax the restrictions on private enterprise Yu Chen set up his own company which soon flourished. In time he branched out into other sectors of industry. Within a few years he was the wealthiest private individual in China, and among the top ten richest in the world. "He owns several electronics and plastics factories in this country," Mike Thompson informed Slate. "His worldwide empire is going from strength to strength." Chen was looked on as a considerate employer by all those who worked for him, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. 
 He had no brothers and sisters and no other family, his uncle and aunt having been childless. He employed quite a few servants as security guards. He visited the West a lot and had houses in London and the States in addition to his villa near Beijing. In his spare time he frequented museums, libraries and other places of learning; otherwise he didn't get out much. He had a great interest in the traditional culture of his homeland.
 "The only other thing we know about him is that he's rumoured to take drugs − mainly opium."
 "Could that have been his connection with Wu?" Slate wondered. "Drug smuggling?"
 "Maybe. But it's only hearsay. There's never been enough evidence to justify a proper investigation."   
 Slate dropped heavily into his chair. "Seems there's absolutely nothing on him. No grounds for pulling him in. And I don't see why he'd want to kidnap this kid, anyway. His family are a thoroughly respectable lot and he's well spoken of by the staff at the school. He's not the sort who'd take drugs, as far as we can tell, and so I don't know how it'd tie in with the opium."
 "Looks like the whole thing's come to a standstill," Thompson remarked.
 Slate ran a hand through his thinning fair hair, making it thin a little more. Tomorrow they would be taking up their new positions at SO13. "Yes," he sighed. "I'm afraid it has. As far as we're concerned, anyway."
    


TWELVE
Fereydoun sat cross-legged on the grass like a meditating Yogi, thinking as deeply as the stupefying effect of the heat allowed. His Buddhist friend was long gone now. 
 There was a cluster of daisies on the ground a foot or so away, just within his reach. He plucked one and stared down at it for a moment, rolling it idly between his fingers.
 The chatter of the other students was beginning to die away as they drifted off. It was getting cooler, and supper was bt beckoning. 
 There were still quite a few people about, though. Nearby a picnic was in progress. A little girl belonging to one of the women in the group was learning to walk, toddling about under her parent's watchful eye, with the uncertain stumbling steps of the very young. She tottered and fell, landing flat on her face. The mother made to help her, but the child was unhurt and cheerfully returned the woman's loving smile as she gently picked her up and set her back on her feet.   
 The Koran taught love and respect for all life. There must be no cruelty, even against unbelievers or those who had wronged you in some way.  
 But it also said that whoever defamed the Prophet must die. How was he to reconcile the two extremes?  
 So many complexities, so many contradictions, just as there were in other religions. He must use the brain God had given him to resolve them. But how?
 He continued to sit where he was, picking absently at the grass, while the babble of conversation and the sounds of childish laughter drifted to him on the breeze. 
 Perhaps the idea was that you loved them unless they offended the Prophet, in which case you were exonerated from your previous obligations and could kill them with impunity. But was it an offence for them simply to be a different culture?  
 Some of them were undoubtedly wicked. The racist yobs, the football hooligans. The criminals and lowlifers. Some, at any rate, of the businessmen and politicians.    
But innocent people. Ordinary women and children.
 Of course it always was the innocent who got hurt. Death and suffering had to be risked if you were to act on the scale your cause demanded. There was nothing unIslamic in simply doing what was necessary, unfortunate though its effects might be.   
 But al-Kursaali and his associates genuinely hated them, however much they might be nice and polite to their faces.  It wasn't just the attitude of people who had become debased by the need to do unpleasant things. Fereydoun was sure it was something different. Something that surely wasn't right.  
 His faith was meant to help him endure suffering, to be sustained and even ennobled by it. Yes; that was its purpose, rather than to turn suffering into an excuse to hate and destroy. Allah was not surely not so cruel as to kill and maim and bereave merely because he had been insulted. People were more likely to come to the faith if it was shown to be merciful and forgiving. Kind and caring.
 And these Westerners do not have the props that we have, he thought pityingly. However much they might deny it they live sad, confused, pathetic lives. They put up so stoically with stress while letting it inwardly tear them apart, sullying all the joy of existence. Most of them do not have any religious faith, even a Christian one. They have no God to turn to, no way of being sure that when they or their loved ones die they will go to a Heaven where they will be free from pain and fear forever. 
 To slaughter them would be to seal their fate. If Allah had granted them a lifetime in which, barring accidents, they would have the opportunity to repent their ways and turn to Him, it was not for Man to cut it short. Because they had been so foolish as to wander close to the edge of the precipice, did that excuse you pushing them over it?  
 Suddenly Fereydoun stood up sharply, turned on his heels and stalked off. A group of people sitting nearby saw him, noted the change in his manner, and eyed him curiously for a moment before returning to their game, one of them shrugging dismissively.  
 He went home, had a simple meal, and said his evening prayers, the ritual as always filling him with strength and resolve. Giving him the courage to do what must be done.
 It was getting on for seven o'clock when he set off for al-Kursaali's house, grim resolution etched into his face. Once or twice on the way he stopped to hover unhappily. He had already psyched himself up to meet the angry reaction he knew he would provoke, but however hard he tried couldn't suppress a cold shudder of dread at the thought of it. 
 He came up to the gate of Kursaali's house and paused with his hand resting on it, his courage again wavering. Then, bracing himself one last time, he swung it open, marched up the path to the front door and rang the bell. And waited with pounding heart for someone to answer, biting his lip so hard in his nerves that he thought he tasted blood.
 A muzzy shape appeared through the frosted glass pane in the door, and he heard someone fumble with the catch. Then the door was open and al-Kursaali stood before him.  
 The Algerian broke into a broad grin. "Fereydoun, my friend! Peace be with you. What brings you here?" 
 "I must speak with you, Ahmed. The others too." al-Kursaali sensed the strangeness in his manner and frowned.
 "Come in," he said, and stepped back to let Fereydoun enter. The door clicked shut behind them.  
al-Kursaali escorted him to the living room. "They're all in here."
 They rose to greet him as he entered. Seating himself, al-Kursaali gestured to Fereydoun to do the same.
 Then he looked expectantly at the Iranian, unease and tension showing clearly in his face. "What's happened? Has someone found out something?"  
 Fereydoun contemplated the floor for a moment or two, then with a deep breath drew himself up. He looked al-Kursaali straight in the face. "It is not right, my friend. What we are going to do. There must be no killing." His gaze travelled round the room, taking in the other five people there.  
 al-Kursaali felt himself go suddenly cold. His mouth opened and then closed again. He stared blankly at Fereydoun for what seemed to both of them a very long time, thrown into utter confusion by the other's words.
 Eventually he found a voice. "What do you mean?" he asked in a hollow whisper. 
 "It is not natural. It is against Allah. Doesn't our religion teach the sanctity of all life?"
The others were staring too, their faces full of horror and alarm. 
 "If we go to Iraq to fight their soldiers, then maybe that is right. It is an act of war...a part of the jihad. But the ordinary people of the West, those who aren't soldiers, are not our enemies. And they too have their children. They too will leave behind loved ones to weep for them."
 "I...I do not believe this," gasped al-Kursaali, seeming both angry and astonished. He turned to the others as if they might be able to provide an explanation for this sudden and shocking heresy.
 He realised Fereydoun was speaking. "Please understand, my friend, this was not easy for me. I could have gone to the police but I did not wish to be guilty of spying on a fellow Muslim. Especially when you were the brother of my fiancee.  All the same I nearly did; I hope you will forgive me for that. But I would rather not. That's why I've come here now to ask you to give it up."
 al-Kursaali collected himself. "They are all infidels," he snapped. "Unclean. A plague which must be eradicated."
 "So is anyone unclean before they become a Muslim. But people have accepted the faith before. Kill them and they cannot do that. And are they likely to love Islam if they only see it as something which kills their families? Would you, my brother?"
 He went on to explain his doubts in more detail, speaking passionately yet reasonably. Kursaali's expression showed he wasn't impressed. "But they do not change," he argued. "They refuse to. It means they are a problem to us, and a danger."
 "Some change. And if just one of the infidels returns to Allah then it is a wonderful thing, an occasion for immeasurable joy. All of us, every single one, is precious in his sight. We cannot throw away the slightest chance that a person may redeem themselves."
 "What is our faith if we will not fight to defend it?" snapped al-Kursaali. "Prayer on its own is not enough − merely words. We must prove our loyalty to Islam by our actions. When all is said and done we must be willing to kill to protect it or we have failed the test. It's a commitment we can't abandon just for the sake of a few who may repent.  This is no time for weakness." He shook his head savagely, as if dismissing from his mind any unwelcome thought that Fereydoun might just be right.  
 He eyed the Iranian sadly. "You are misguided, my brother." A part of him had always wondered if it had been a mistake to have allowed Khambatti into the group. He wasn't really one of them; had always lacked the stomach, the ruthlessness, to do what was necessary.  
 Fereydoun's voice rose in anguish. "If you start bombing and killing here all you will do will be to bring their anger down upon us. We will be killed, driven from our homes, our women attacked in the street."
 "Muslims should be proud to suffer in such a cause. If we all rose up together we could destroy the infidel. Those who choose not to join us in our struggle are supporting our enemies and will suffer the consequences."
 The initial shock at Fereydoun's bombshell had been succeeded by tension. Now the atmosphere in the room changed again, suddenly and unpleasantly.   
 "And if we don't give it up, Fereydoun, what will you do?" Sami Khalil asked, his tone softly menacing. 
 "You must give it up." But Fereydoun knew as soon as he spoke that he was wasting his time. There was little hope of getting them to change their minds. He had had to try for the sake of his own conscience. But it was a lost cause because they all knew that in the end he would have no option but to tell the authorities. Kursaali would not promise to abandon terrorist activity and then resume it again, because as soon as the first bomb went off Fereydoun would know he had not kept his word. And when it did go off he could simply claim it had been the work of another group. 
 "Go to the police," Fereydoun urged. "Hand over all the equipment. Offer to help them catch other terrorists, then you may be able to avoid arrest. Tell them who else is involved in this." 
"You mean betray fellow Muslims?" al-Kursaali's lip curled in contempt.
 "They are not Muslims. They are people crazed with hate and anger. You must have nothing to do with them."
 In truth al-Kursaali had already decided what to do about Fereydoun. Now he was known to have doubts about their cause he was a liability to them, even if he should later change his mind. Someone who could falter once could do so again.
 He glanced round at his friends. "We can't let him tell anyone." At first they just stared back at him. Then each made his decision, signifying it by a brief nod.  
 Fereydoun launched himself towards the door. Immediately Yunus and Moaven jumped on him, grabbing an arm each, and bore down savagely. He shouted for help at the top of his voice as they wrestled him to the floor, Moaven kneeling on his legs to pin him down.
 al-Kursaali dashed from the living room and into the kitchen. A moment later he returned, brandishing a bread knife with a long serrated blade. He went down on his knees beside Fereydoun and placed the point of the knife against his throat. "Don't move and don't make a sound," he hissed.  
 He addressed the other five terrorists. "We must tie him up and gag him. Is there anything in the house?"
 "I will look," said Feroz, running off. He came back a few minutes later with a roll of ducting tape and a length of twine. They turned Fereydoun over and Moaven tied his hands behind his back; then while Moaven turned his attention to the Iranian's feet Kursaali tore off a length of the tape and slapped it over his mouth.  
 "Take him upstairs and put him in the bedroom," he ordered.  Make sure nobody can see him through the window." Moaven and Feroz carried Fereydoun off. 
 With their prisoner safely secured, they slammed the bedroom door on him and went back downstairs. "Now what do we do with him?" asked Moaven. "We can't keep him here forever."
 "He has betrayed our cause. He has to die. When it is dark we can get the body out of the house and dump it somewhere."  Before then there would of course be the danger that someone might see them and get suspicious, even if the body were wrapped up in a sheet.
"So we kill him now?" 
 "No. Nearer the time." Hardened terrorist as he was, al-Kursaali didn't fancy being in the same house as a dead body for too long. There would also be the problem of concealing bloodstains and other traces should someone unexpectedly call on them, which they were less likely to do the later it got.  He guessed Fereydoun would already have concluded they meant to kill him fairly soon, so a delay of a few hours oughtn't to matter too much to him. 
 Upstairs Fereydoun lay on the floor of the bedroom, his arms stretched out past his head with the wrists tied together and to the pipe running under the radiator. The pipe was high up enough for the position to be uncomfortable, sending fiery stabs of pain through his arms. He rolled over onto his side and found it a little easier to bear.
 He cursed himself for a fool. How stupid he had been not to go straight to the police. The thought of it no longer seemed quite so heinous.
 What did they mean to do to him? They couldn't keep him here for ever, and they couldn't afford to let him go because of what he knew. It seemed to him things could only have one outcome.  
 Oh Allah, Allah the most merciful and wise and benevolent and compassionate...just get me out of this. He lifted his head a fraction, enough to see through the window. Still light, though only just. But once it got dark, he could guess what their plans would be.
 He strained at the cords around his wrists. They wouldn't budge.
 But he kept on straining, because there was simply nothing else he could do.  
Some minutes passed.
 And then he felt the cords slip. Fortunately they hadn't made too good a job of the knots. His heart leaped with excitement.   
 He redoubled his efforts, grunting and gasping as he wrenched savagely at his bonds. If they heard the sounds they would not be unduly alarmed; after all, they would expect him to try and free himself.
 But he guessed they would check on him at some point to make sure the ropes were secure. He had to release himself before they did. Suddenly one wrist started to slip free. Allah be praised!
 The cords were coming away; slowly but surely, they were unravelling. Trying to make as little noise as possible, he continued to work at them, and one by one the loops of twine loosened until with a sharp tug he was able to yank his hand free. The other followed. Easing himself over onto his backside, he shook off the slack lengths of twine and took hold of the ones around his ankles.  
 In less than a minute he had succeeded in undoing them.  Slowly, stiffly, he rose to his feet, ripping the ducting tape from his mouth. He padded to the door and opened it slowly and cautiously. 
 Nobody there. He had feared one of them might have stayed to watch the door, but it appeared not. It was a mistake they wouldn't make twice.
 Moving very slowly and quietly, he crossed the landing to the stairs and crept down them one step at a time, hardly daring to breathe, his heart hammering away in his chest like a pile-driver. 
 He could hear voices coming from the living room. No doubt they were discussing in detail just how they planned to dispose of him. He presumed he had made a noise and failed to be aware of it in his state of fear and tension; whatever the reason, he was almost at the bottom of the stairs when he heard movement from inside the room. They had got up from their seats and were making for the door. All of them.
 If he made a dash for the front door they would hear him, if they hadn’t already, and overpower him before he got there. Perhaps because he felt more security-conscious than usual, having committed the crime of imprisoning someone falsely within the house, Kursaali he saw had put the chain on the door and he'd lose precious seconds trying to undo it. 
 His mind whirling, Fereydoun glanced towards the rear of the house. There might be a better way out.  
 All these thoughts flashed through his mind in seconds.  There wasn't a lot of time in which to make a decision.
 He scrambled down the last few steps, then darted to the right. Feroz was already in the hall; Fereydoun shot past him, knocking him aside, and flew down the passage into the kitchen. He ran to one of the drawers, yanked it open and snatched out a knife.
 Just as the five of them ran into the kitchen he spun round to face them, brandishing the knife fiercely, swishing it from side to side. Automatically they skidded to a stop, scrambling back a few paces.  
 Slowly Fereydoun retreated towards the door that opened into the back garden, his eyes fixed squarely on them and gleaming dangerously. He felt himself collide with it and reached behind him with his other arm, fingers scrabbling for the handle. 
 Moaven turned and ran from the kitchen, and seconds later Fereydoun heard him crashing up the stairs. But he didn't have time to think about what the terrorist might be doing.  He found the handle and tugged it down. Fortunately the door wasn't locked, and he felt the movement as the bar disengaged. He stepped forward a little, allowing it to open enough for him to slip out. 
 He tensed himself rigid, took a deep breath, dropped the knife, turned and shot out of the house, through the garden towards the fence that divided it from the alleyway running past the rear of the properties. For a few seconds he was moving as fast as an Olympic sprinter.  
 He reached the fence and scrambled over it, dropping to the ground and landing with an impact that briefly winded him. Then he raced off down the alleyway towards the road that ran at a right angle to the one Kursaali's house was in. In a public street it would be more risky to go after him, even though it was dark. For the same reason they wouldn't go through the house and run round to cut him off.
 At that moment they were clambering over the fence one by one and running along the alleyway after him. 
 A few yards, a few seconds, might be enough to decide the matter.
 Ahead of him Fereydoun could see the mouth of the alleyway, illuminated by the orange-red glow of a streetlight. All he had to do was reach the street and he would be safe.
 He didn't dare think about how close behind him his pursuers might be.  
 About twenty yards ahead of them the terrorists saw Fereydoun's running figure, starkly outlined in the glow from the streetlamp. It had almost reached the end of the alleyway. 
 Then Moaven charged through them, knocking them to one side.  He skidded to a stop, raised the Uzi handgun he had fetched from the upstairs room and aimed it at Fereydoun's back.  
 The silenced weapon made no sound. They saw Fereydoun stagger, throwing his arms high in the air, and fold in two, his legs crumpling. He sprawled flat on his back.  
 They ran on towards the body, wanting to make sure it was dead, and saw Fereydoun stir slightly.
 They also saw, through the mouth of the alleyway, a group of young men and women standing on the other side of the road, staring at the body and the spreading pool of blood around it. Hesitantly one or two of them started towards it. Another broke away from the rest and hurried off, no doubt to call for an ambulance. One or two of the people living in the street were drawing back their curtains and peeping out curiously.
 One of the girls was leaning forward, peering into the darkness, having glimpsed the shadowy figures clustered near the body. Then she realised she might be in danger and drew back hurriedly. 
 The terrorists had stopped dead on seeing the party. al-Kursaali considered and made a quick decision, addressing  the others in Arabic. "It's too late now. Back to the house by the front, the long way round." If they were seen jumping back over the wall it might lead the police to the property. 
 Hurriedly Moaven unbuttoned his shirt and as they ran back down the alleyway, into the darkness, tucked the Uzi inside it, holding his arm across his chest to keep it in place. At the end of the alleyway they stopped running, realising that no-one was following them, and seeing that they were unobserved he did up the buttons. Hopefully no-one would notice the bulge in the dark.
 Behind them on the pavement in Hartfield Road, two of the young men were hovering indecisively beside Fereydoun while the rest of the group hung back fearfully. They doubted there was anything they could do for him until the ambulance got there, and it would be dangerous to try as none of them had any medical training. But they couldn't just stand there and watch him die.
 One of them knelt to examine Fereydoun. There was a hole in his shirt where the bullet had gone through him, and blood was pouring from it in alarming quantities. His head was moving weakly from side to side and his eyelids flickered fitfully. Vaguely he heard the youth speak. "Fuckin' hell, he's been shot."
He was dimly aware of the figure leaning over him. "Can you hear me, mate?"
 He struggled to speak, his lips working frantically. But the words wouldn't come.
 "We've called an ambulance, OK? Police too. Look, what happened? Who were those people?"
 Fereydoun twisted his head to look at the young man, and rallied his failing energies with a final desperate effort.  His voice was thick and distorted from the blood clogging his throat.
"Bomb," he gasped. "Bomb."  
"What's that?"
"Bomb..."
"Can't hear you, mate," said the young man.
 He gasped out the words with the last of his strength. "Bomb...terrorists...going to...al...al-Qaeda...going to...bomb..."
 Then the light in his eyes, already dim, went out and his head rolled to one side. His eyelids closed, and the faint sound of his breathing died away.
 "Looks like he's gone," someone said. One of the girls began to sob hysterically. 
 Slowly, the young man straightened up and turned to his friends. For a moment they didn't register the look on his face. "What did he say?" someone asked.
 He hesitated a little before answering, and when he did it was in a hollow, quiet voice. "I think he said something about a bomb."


THIRTEEN
Moving in a calm and unhurried fashion, al-Kursaali and his friends emerged from the other end of the alleyway into the street that ran parallel to Hartfield Road. There not being that many people about at this time of night, no-one saw them do so. They turned right and went down the street to a T-junction, then left along Marlborough Road to Kursaali’s house. Once inside they turned to look at one another. 
 "We must have killed him," said Moaven, trying to sound more confident than he felt.
"We can't be sure. Wouldn't it be best to move out?"
 "That will only arouse suspicion," said al-Kursaali. "It would put them on our track for sure. Look at it this way. If he did tell them we're in trouble anyway, whatever we do. If he didn't we have nothing to worry about."
 After a moment's uncertainty, the four of them muttered their agreement. “But we'd better get rid of everything in the house that'd look suspicious," urged Sami. "We can move the guns and stuff back in later once things have died down."
 "We can keep them at my house in the meantime," suggested Rachim. al-Kursaali nodded. "You're sure no-one saw anything?" he asked the group.
"I think so," Sami answered. "Anyway we'll just have to take the chance."
"Those kids..."
"I don't think they got a good enough look at us."
 "The Hendersons must have heard Fereydoun shouting when we pulled him down."
 "The Hendersons are away right now, remember." The couple in question occupied the house on the left of theirs.   
 "And Barbara?" Barbara Heaney inhabited the property to the right. al-Kursaali smiled. "Don't worry about that," he said calmly. "Just don't worry about it. I'll take care of her."

There were several police cars in the road now, and about half a dozen officers on the scene attending to specialised duties or standing about keeping an eye on things. The area around the body had been cordoned off with lengths of coloured tape strung between metal poles, and the Scene Of Crime Officer was busy making sure nothing had been interfered with. The party who had found the body were being interviewed by a plainclothes detective with a notebook, who took down each person's name and address in case their evidence should ever be required in court. Several were still a bit shaken, and one youth stood with a comforting arm wrapped around his girlfriend's shoulders.
 "We were coming back from a party at the Stag's Head," said their spokesman. "We heard someone come running along the alleyway, and it sounded like there was a whole lot of people after him. We were a bit scared. He came into the light...and then blood was everywhere and he went down." He shuddered at the memory.
 "We didn't know what to do, we just stood there and stared," confessed one of the girls. "We just didn't think about the danger."
"And what happened then?"
 "The bunch who were after him must have seen us because they stopped running. They hung about for a bit trying to decide what to do, then they went off."
"Did you get a look at their faces?"
 The group turned to one another, and after a moment shook their heads. "'Fraid not, it was too dark,” the spokesman said. “But I think there were about four or five of them."
"Did you see where they went?"
"Back along the alleyway. That's all I can say."
 The detective nodded his thanks, and addressed one of the two men who had tried to help the victim. "OK, what happened then?"  
 "I couldn't do much for him. I asked him what had happened; he had a bit of trouble trying to get the words out but he definitely said something about a bomb. I think he said something about terrorists and al-Qaeda as well but it was hard to be sure."
 Nodding, the detective turned back to the rest of the group. "And is there anything else you can tell me, any of you?" 
 Again they thought about it, again they all shook their heads. "Sorry," they said in unison.
 "OK, thanks for your help. Now I've no control over what you might choose to say to your friends, your families or anyone else about this, but I'll tell you, if word gets around that there's a terrorist plot it could cause all sorts of trouble and things are tense enough as it is. We don't want to panic anyone and we don't want to stir things up." He guessed they'd know what he meant by that. "Of course we'll do what we can to find out who these people are and stop them. In the meantime, keep quiet. All right?" They nodded.  
 He glanced to where one of the girls, still in a state of shock, was being looked after by a woman officer. She, too, would have to be advised of the need for secrecy. "We'll make sure your friend gets home. The rest of you are free to go now − and remember what I said, OK?" He hoped to God they would.  
 "Cheers," they chorused, and with friendly waves to the police went on their way. The detective went over to the pathologist, who straightened up from his examination of Fereydoun's body, now partly covered by a plastic sheet. "He was shot twice in the centre of the back, point blank. Did a lot of damage. If they had managed to get him to hospital I doubt it would've made any difference. The weapon was probably a handgun, a Uzi or a Tokarev. That's all I can say right now." He glanced down sadly at the sheeted body. "Poor bugger. Looks like he had a fit of conscience and tried to warn somebody. So they're human after all."
 The detective stood in silence for a moment. He made a clicking noise with his tongue. "This one's a dead human," he muttered. "Let's hope there won't be many more of those." 
    *
After ten years a combination of adultery, violence and general incompatibility had caused Barbara Heaney to separate from her husband, leaving her with their two small children to look after.
 She usually took the kids to school herself each morning but on this occasion the task had been entrusted to a neighbour, since she was staying in for the man to come and repair her gas meter. She hadn’t been able to tie them him down to a precise time, much to her annoyance, but they'd said he would try and get there as early as possible. 
 The children waved goodbye to her from the rear window of the neighbour's car as it rolled away down the street, and she waved back. Arms folded, she watched it disappear from view. A strand of lank brown hair strayed into one eye and she flicked it away. She put her cigarette to her lips and blew a thin stream of smoke horizontally into the fresh morning air, fouling it. Mentally smoking made her feel better, more relaxed; the trouble was that physically it wasn't doing her any good at all, as the thick hacking coughs which constantly racked her body testified.
 Glancing down at her stomach, she realised she was getting overweight too. Not that she really cared much about that.  Those types who were always telling you how to keep fit and healthy and in other respects manage your life properly were a bore and an irritant to her. There was no dignity in allowing yourself to be lectured; letting herself go to seed, as some would put it, was an act of defiance, one actually necessary to her self-respect. That was how she saw it. 
 She was about to go back in when she heard someone coming along the pavement towards her, and glanced round idly. It was Ahmed al-Kursaali, and briefly she felt a sharp pang of regret. He was quite handsome, she supposed, and hunkily built if a bit on the short side. She had secretly fancied him for some time, but never seriously entertained the possibility of their becoming intimate. It just wasn't worth getting involved with any of that lot. 
He drew level with her. "Excuse me, Barbara?"
"Yeah?" she grunted.
"About that little disturbance you would have heard last night."
His tone made her uneasy. "Oh yeah?" she answered warily.
 He paused briefly for effect, fixing her with a hard, warning stare. The expression wasn't entirely unfriendly. "I think it would be best if you said nothing about it to the police. There are nasty people involved, people who would kill you or your family to protect themselves.
 "Don't concern yourself with it, Barbara. It is our business, you understand? Our quarrel."
She stared back at him blankly. "What's been going on then?"  
 "As I said, I think it's better you don't know. It is for your sake that I'm saying this. I don't want you or your kids to get hurt."
 He had managed to deliver the warning in such a way that she was left with the impression the threat had not come from him personally, that he was only trying to protect her. She was still angry at the threat to her family's wellbeing, but felt reporting it to be more trouble than it was worth. Let Kursaali and his friends do what they liked to each other, it was no business of hers. Theirs was a different culture which she would never in any case be able to fathom, and she wasn't surprised if they had been up to something nasty last night. As long as it wasn't her they were picking on.  
 She shrugged her shoulders. "No skin off my nose," she said wearily. "You lot can get up to whatever you like. To tell the truth I couldn't care less. There's probably nothing I could do about it anyway."
 She turned on her heels. al-Kursaali's eyes followed her as she walked away, a sardonic look on his face. Then, dismissing Barbara from his mind, he went back to his friends.

Cabinet Office, 10 Downing Street
COBRA was meeting again. This time the Prime Minister and his colleagues had been joined by the new Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator, under whom considerable improvements had been made in the training of emergency service workers. His appointment was one of various measures recently put in hand to deal with the consequences of a major terrorist attack. It would of course be impossible to assess their effectiveness until they were tested by an actual atrocity, and of course everybody hoped one wouldn't happen. 
 The first item on the agenda was the threat of biological or chemical warfare. Peter Norton gave them the gen on the subject.
 He ran through the various kinds of chemical weapon. Sulphur mustard (mustard gas),first used in the First World War, caused the lungs to fill with water leading to chest infections; but since a particularly high dose was needed it was more likely to cause disability than death. Blood agents such as hydrogen cyanide neutralised the chemical that extracted oxygen from the blood; loading the body with sodium thiosulphate turned the agents into a harmless substance called thiocyanide, which passed out in the urine.  
 Then there were nerve agents like sarin, used in the 1995 attack on the Tokyo underground, which acted by direct contact with the skin, and VX which was inhaled. They blocked the enzymes involved in the production of chemicals which assisted transmission of impulses along the nervous system, leading to fits and eventually death from paralysis of the muscles used in breathing. If a nerve agent was inhaled death could occur within minutes; if through the skin it took rather longer to have an effect. Antidotes were available in the form either of injections, which had to be given immediately, or drugs which must before rather than after an attack (implying that you had to know when one was coming). 
 Bioweapons were difficult to detect, since they had no smell or taste and were invisible when sprayed into the air, and smaller amounts than with chemicals were needed for them to be deadly. They might be spread by means of crop-spraying aircraft or unmanned drones fitted with specially designed nozzles. There were three kinds in particular that you had to worry about; anthrax, ricin and smallpox.
 Biological agents too were of various different types. Most of them broke down rapidly in the atmosphere, so unless you were close to the delivery point you had a good chance of surviving an attack. Anthrax, carried by wild and domestic animals in Asia, Africa and parts of Europe was a notable exception, the spores often remaining in the air for years.  Inhalational anthrax usually struck about 2-3 days after exposure, death following within a further three. However anthrax rarely affected humans. If there was any suspicion that it had, swabs and smears could be taken and blood analysed for the presence of the bacteria. If the tests proved positive immediate treatment with antibiotics then became essential.  
 Though anthrax could be produced artificially it was difficult to produce large quantities of it and spread them over a large area, so it was unlikely to be used to kill large numbers of people, as opposed to the few who had died in America in the attacks following Sept 11th. The government believed it had enough "strategic stocks" of the anthrax vaccine to deal with a major outbreak. Anthrax was thus not considered a serious threat, and in the UK the Public Health Laboratory Service had decided immunisation was not necessary except for people whose work put them in regular contact with animals and thus were at risk from infection through the skin, the less serious form of the disease. 
 It was thought possible that anthrax could be modified genetically to be more virulent and more resistant to antibiotics. Of course the PHLS was continuing to monitor the situation and would respond accordingly to any serious incidents.
 Ricin only killed in small quantities, despite the reputation it had gained as a result of the substance once being discovered in the possession of a terrorist suspect in Manchester. It was now being discounted as a serious threat.  
 Toxins such as botulism, which caused eyesight problems and then went on to paralyse the muscles −including breathing muscles − leading to death, could be treated with antitoxin and a sufferer helped to breathe using a ventilator (are there enough ventilators to go around, the Prime Minister wondered gloomily). 
 Yet another potential threat came from smallpox. This could be transmitted by coughs and sneezes, by handling a victim's clothing or bedding, and by aerial spread, sometimes over distances of hundreds of yards. Once in the body the virus underwent a 12-day incubation period, after which the victim became potentially lethal to anyone nearby who had not been immunised, until cured or killed. If dead, the corpse would need to decompose or be destroyed before all danger of infection was removed. The disease was fatal to roughly one in five of a given population.  
 The first signs of illness were a high temperature, headaches, sometimes vomiting. A few days later a rash appeared on the face, soon spreading to the rest of the body and developing into fleshy circles of pus which had the look of rotting flesh. On about the 12th day scabs began to appear. By the 14th they started falling off until by the 20th day, if the victim was going to survive, the lesions had all but cleared, leaving a legacy of pitted scars and in a minority of cases blindness in one or both eyes.  
 In more severe smallpox cases, where mortality varied from 75 to 100%, the best the victim could hope for was a quick death.  
 Haemorrhagic or "black" smallpox had effects similar to the Ebola virus. The onset was sudden, with severe headaches and pains in the abdomen, back and muscles. Blistering on the mucuous membranes made it hard for victims to talk or swallow food. In the later stages the virus caused vomiting of blood from the stomach and also stripped the skin from the body leaving painful patches of raw flesh. In a few cases the victim, dreadfully mutilated, lingered on until the 20th day, looking as if they had been mummified while alive, although remaining rational and able to hear and sometimes see. The few who did survive would be horribly scarred for the rest of their days.
 On July 23rd 2001 a group of American national security experts gathered in closed sessions at a Congressional hearing room in Washington DC, to report on a two-day computer-simulated exercise whose aim was to find out what  what would actually happen if a smallpox outbreak hit America. In this scenario terrorists stole some smallpox ampoules and released them in three states. The crisis began with a number of people checking into hospital with an unidentified illness which turned out to be smallpox. Within six days 300 were dead and 2,000 more infected. The health system cracked under the pressure, quickly using up its 12 million doses of vaccine and leaving 264 million Americans without protection. Government and public institutions all over the country, including Congress and the House of Representatives, were forced to close, effectively paralysing social and political life, for fear of spreading the plague. Interstate commerce ground to a halt and trading of stocks was suspended. Demonstrations demanding more smallpox vaccines turned into riots. By the time things began to improve one million Americans were dead, another three million infected, and the President had been forced to impose martial law. Another of the fears constantly tormenting Tom Buchan was that the overstretched British NHS would be even less able to cope with such a situation; and that he would get the blame for it. 
 The absence of smallpox from the world for 22 years meant that people had no resistance to it should it come back. "And after the Russian stocks were stolen, we must assume an attack here is a possibility," Norton reminded the meeting.
 "Are there any other stocks of the disease kept anywhere?" asked the Prime Minister. What to do with samples of it after its eradication had been a bone of contention.     
 "There are some at a research facility in Atlanta, Georgia. We don't know how the Russian supplies were stolen, which is why everyone's particularly worried about the whole business.  These terrorists or whatever they are seem to have some magical means of sneaking things out from heavily guarded installations without anyone noticing. But they haven't tried it at the Atlanta station, because the stuff's still there.  Which suggests they've got all they want from Russia. Security at Atlanta remains tight, of course."
"And how are they going to release the substance, once they decide to do so?"
 "All you'd have to do would be to crush a single ampoule in a crowded place, like a railway station or a shopping centre, 
to run up a pretty respectable death toll. Or a suicide bomber who'd infected himself to blow up in one of those places − the blood would go everywhere, of course. The outbreak would be hard to control because smallpox doesn't show during the 12-day incubation period."  
 "But we've got enough supplies of vaccine now, haven't we?" the Prime Minister said. 
 Norton nodded. "Yes...I suppose smallpox too could be genetically modified so that the vaccine wouldn't work. But that is just a theory. Don't forget there's protective clothing, gas masks with filters. If you have prior warning of an attack, and if they can be issued quickly enough, they'll protect against any chemical or biological agent."
 Weren't there some bacteria whose spores were small enough to pass through the molecules of solid matter? Norton considered mentioning this but decided he didn't want to alarm his colleagues more than he inevitably would. It could be done, perhaps. But then all things were theoretically possible within the bounds of reason. 
 They had discussed the likelihood of an attack on a nuclear installation at the previous meeting, concluding that this was one area where all that could be done had been done. So the conversation now turned to the overall quality of the government's precautionary measures.
 The Prime Minister was uncomfortably aware that a large number of people, including all the emergency planning supremos, had indicated they believed security measures to be inadequate to deal with the effects of a major atrocity.  There were complaints of poor central co-ordination and lack of funding. In July 2002 a House of Commons Committee had slated the government for its performance on the issue.  
 Plans for the evacuation of heavily populated areas in the event of a virus outbreak, or an actual or threatened attack on a nuclear plant, were regarded as woefully inadequate.  There had been few exercises conducted to determine their effectiveness and those that were revealed widespread confusion as to what should be done. It was thought that hundreds could be safely evacuated, but that thousands − the figure they might have to deal with − couldn't. Facilities for mass decontamination in the event of a "dirty bomb", a radiological weapon, being used or a chemical or biological attack were inadequate. The decontamination units already in existence had been designed some years before, and primarily for use in dealing with accidental release of industrial chemicals. Protective suits were often defective. Nor were firefighters, or personnel at tube stations properly trained to use the equipment where it existed. And although some time had now elapsed since the Twin Towers atrocity the general opinion was that structural collapse of a large building such as Canary Wharf or the Nat West tower, due to a bomb attack, would result in massive loss of life. There was not enough of the right rescue equipment and the conclusion drawn from practise evacuations was that it would be impossible to shift hundreds of employees quickly enough to minimise casualties, not least because people didn't always do what they should  in such situations, suddenly panicking or becoming confused.
 The vast amount of ordinary people had received no training in what to do in the event of an emergency. There had been some attempt at a public information programme, involving leaflets being sent to everyone in the country, but it was widely regarded a bit of a joke. Let’s face it, thought the Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator, all it tells you to do is barricade yourself in the nearest supermarket if you see a mushroom cloud above the rooftops so you have a readily available supply of food, and leave everyone else to starve. Assuming they don’t break in and there’s a bloody squabble over it. 
 Shortage of money, due to government cutbacks, limited what local authorities could do here. The funds were growing steadily but were still too low.   
 That was what the last safety review had revealed. The Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator was asked if there had been any change in the situation since. He told them bluntly that there hadn't. The money to manufacture the equipment in the required numbers and purchase it did not exist. It was coming, but excruciatingly slowly. The practice exercises continued to highlight the lack of preparation and essential materials, problems hindering what in any case, due to the nature of modern society and the complicating effect of basic human fallibility, was a highly complex and difficult operation.  
 The Prime Minister sighed long and hard, knowing what the answer would be to the question he was about to ask.  "So...putting it simply, is it your belief that we could cope in the event of a major terrorist incident?"
 The Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator looked him straight in the eye, with a touch of reproof that caused the Prime Minister's lips to twitch briefly in a resentful scowl.  "No," he said quietly. "No Prime Minister, I'm afraid it isn't."

Because all the faithful were equal in the sight of God and no-one's death mattered more than anybody else's Fereydoun's funeral was a simple, unostentatious affair. In keeping with this restraint there was no screaming or wailing, no uninhibited outburst of emotion, on the part of the mourners; apart from anything else such grief ought to have been dispelled by the knowledge that they would be reunited with Fereydoun in Paradise, and thus showed lack of faith.
 The body had already been washed all over, anointed with scents and spices, and turned so that it faced Mecca. Now, wrapped in its shroud, it was carried directly to the municipal cemetery by the pallbearers, and there lowered gently into its grave, at the head of which stood the standard marble headstone with writing on it in Arabic and English. "In memory of Fereydoun Khambatti, beloved son, brother and fiancee."
 As it disappeared from view one of the family read from the Koran. "In the name of God we commit you to the earth, according to the Way of the Prophet of God."
 A little earth was sprinkled onto the grave. "We created you from it, and We return you into it, and from it We will raise you a second time."
 The usual prayers for such an occasion were said, along with beseechments that any sins Fereydoun might have committed during his earthly life be forgiven. Finally another passage from the Koran was read out:
 "The final goal is to your Lord. It is He who causes both laughter and grief; it is He who causes people to die and to be born; it is He who caused male and female; it is He who will recreate us anew."   
 All of Samira's and Fereydoun's extended families were there, along with al-Kursaali and his friends whose faces all throughout remained impassively solemn. Ahmed said very little to Samira or to anyone else, standing in silence with his hands clasped before him. It could of course be interpreted as merely behaviour suitable to the occasion.  
 Supported between her father and mother, Samira bore the proceedings in a calm and dignified manner; at one point sobbing quietly for a few moments, otherwise just brushing away the occasional tear from one eye. Her grief was no less acute for being restrained. She had known Fereydoun for a short time and then he had been taken away from her. Now she would not be seeing him ever again, at least not in this life. As for the next, that was something she could only pray for, and of course would.
 She would smile weakly at each of her relatives, and they would smile back by way of reassurance. From now on everyone would concentrate on her, rallying round to offer their sympathy and support until she had fully could adjusted ti her loss.  
 Afterwards they returned to the family home, where they spent some time talking quietly over their drinks. When the time came for everyone to say goodbye, al-Kursaali went to his sister and hugged and kissed her briefly. He went round all his other relatives, doing the same thing; pecking the ladies on the cheek and shaking the men by the hand. 
Putting on the act. 

H'Sien Choi was on the phone. On the desk beside him a heap of paper money lay burning in a porcelain bowl, wisps of smoke curling upwards into the dingy air of the office.  Every so often he stirred the pile with a metal spatula, making the little yellow flames leap higher. The burning of "ghost money" was a time-honoured Chinese custom, intended to placate the souls of dead relatives, persuading them to look kindly upon you by showing them respect. It wasn't normally done at this time of year, except on certain festive occasions of which today was not one. But perhaps H'Sien Choi had a special reason for wanting to appease his ancestors; they might not approve of the kind of activities he made his living from. 
 "I hope to have another consignment for you soon, H'Sien Choi," the voice at the other end of the phone was saying.  "Be ready to receive it." 
 H'Sien Choi nodded, smiling. The smile vanished, to be replaced by a frown, at the other's next words. "I will need soon to take delivery of your current stock."
"No," Choi protested. "It is not time yet." 
 "Yes. They've been with you long enough, you can let them go now. In any case, the line-up has to change from time to time. Your customers appreciate variety."
 "One of them has expressed an interest in several of the commodities. He is a very powerful man, someone I do not wish to offend."  
 "So am I, H'Sien Choi. Remember that. Perhaps your customer would like to argue with me about it? I suspect he would rather not." The silken voice suddenly hardened. "Do you wish to keep the goods all for yourself, by any chance?"
"No, I swear," H'Sien Choi protested. "I would not dream of it."
 "Good," said the other after a moment. "That is all." The line went dead.
 H'Sien Choi sighed. He turned to the woman who stood beside him, one foot resting on the desk. Assuming that position had caused her dress to ride up. He placed one hand on her knee, fondled it for a moment, and then slid the hand up her thigh, caressing the smooth white flesh. 
"What did our friend have to say?" the woman inquired.
 "He wants delivery now. He does not understand the pressures I am under, the difficulties I have to face."  
 "Don't worry about it," she said soothingly, putting one arm around him and bending to kiss him gently on the cheek.  "Business is pretty good at the moment, on the whole. That's what matters."
"It could be better."
"You really don't like having to give him his cut, do you?" she observed.
 "There is nothing I can do. He is not the kind of man it is safe to refuse. Perhaps one day..."
 "He should be grateful to you. Where else does he get his goodies from? You've got to keep the punters happy, otherwise you'd be out of business and not much use to him." 
"Punters?"
 "The customers." The girl paused to pluck a cigarette from the packet on the desk, light it and insert it in her mouth. Perching herself on the edge of the desk she contemplated their problem in depth, occasionally blowing out a long plume of smoke. "Why don't you just have him taken care of?" she said at length.
 "It would be too risky. He has too much influence. His friends would make sure I was punished."  
 "I could always promise to do them a few favours." The girl's lips twitched in a crafty smile.  
 "It would be of no use in any case. In this matter there are some higher than him, and it is said they are people to whom the delights of the flesh mean nothing."
 "You reckon? As soon as I've shown them what I can do, you can bet they'll be a bit more amenable."
 "They are men who keep to the shadows. They will allow no-one to approach them."  
 "Well they can fuck off then," she snorted. "If they don't want to know me, I don't frigging want to know them." She lit another cigarette.
 H'Sien Choi's head dipped back towards the papers on the desk. He didn't see Caroline Kent's face as she turned away from him, grimacing at the kind of language she was being forced to use and thinking not for the first time in the last week or so that this was not really how she wanted to spend her holidays.   

PART TWO

FOURTEEN
The Jade Monkey was packed to full capacity with men from all over the Far East, chatting to one another enthusiastically. A lot of them knew each other; they were members of the set which regularly toured the region visiting establishments like these, sampling the fleshly delights they had to offer and finding a kind of camaraderie in their common pleasure.
 Caroline Kent sat beside H'Sien Choi in the front row of seats, her arms folded in her lap, a look of keen anticipation on her face.
 A door at the back of the stage opened, and three girls came running on. They were Western girls, fair-skinned and fair-haired, and naked except for brief bikini suits which were designed so as to leave their buttocks exposed. Several thongs encircled their stomachs provocatively just below the navel. The impression it was intended to convey was one of bondage.
 They started to dance, or rather skip about in a jerky and unco-ordinated fashion. It was a pathetic performance, but that didn't bother the clientele. They were leaning forward hungrily, their eyes gleaming, wolfish expressions on their faces, happy just to gaze on the girls' white flesh as it rippled and undulated. A dozen or so Chinese girls had appeared behind them, and were dancing with far more agility and balance, but they were completely ignored; it was obvious they were only there to make up the numbers. 
 For Caroline Kent the dancing provided little in the way of entertainment. Nonetheless she was studying the spectacle intently. Her eyes moved from girl to girl, scrutinising each in minute detail. They finally settled on the one on the far left.  
 Intent on the naked bodies gyrating before them none of the clientele chanced to notice her lips tighten in grim satisfaction.
 When the dancing was finished the compere got up, went to stand in front of the stage and addressed the gathering through a microphone. "We hope you have enjoyed the performance. Afterwards the girls will be pleased to entertain you privately. Please make your choice."
 As the negotiations began, Caroline bent her head and whispered in H'Sien Choi's ear. "I have to meet someone from the company. I won't be too long." 
"All right," he nodded.
 She got up and left the room. A few minutes later, having put a coat on over her dress, she exited the club and strolled off down the street. She smiled at the people who stopped and stared at the sight of her, fascinated. The looks on the faces of some of the men were distinctly unnerving, but none of them dared try it on. They all knew she was H'Sien Choi's woman, and it would be extremely unwise − fatal, most likely − to touch her without his permission.  
 She found a telephone kiosk, shut herself in it, picked up the receiver and dialled a number. "It's me. Yes, she's here. All the others too. It looks to me we've struck lucky."

When the announcement came over the complex's PA system that the visitors would be arriving imminently, the two Chinese men abandoned what they were doing for the moment and made their way to a room which contained among other things a row of large store cupboards.  
 In one of the cupboards several long, white robes hung on pegs and with each was a white Muslim lace cap. The men put on these clothes and went out to the landing strip to await the helicopter's arrival. Ten minutes later it touched down and disgorged its cargo, three dark-skinned Arab men similarly dressed to themselves except that they wore turbans instead of the little lace caps. Greeting them cordially, the Chinamen ushered them towards the complex. Li Tan had already been over it, of course, but his colleagues would need to see the progress being made with the project for themselves.  
 They were shown everything. They were shown the various processes going on in the factory unit before moving on to the laboratories where they watched the white-coated scientists busying themselves about incubators and agitators, pouring unidentifiable liquids into test tubes and then mixing them with other substances. They were shown the great spherical mass of the nuclear reactor, a jumble of cooling pipes leading off it to the other equipment standing nearby. Their guides informed them it was not yet fully functional, at the moment serving a purely experimental purpose.
 The one thing they were not shown was what lay behind the apparently solid, featureless concrete wall they had passed at one point on their tour of the place, between the factory and the room containing the reactor. There, each one encased within its own tall concrete and metal silo, stood a row of giant gleaming steel bullets, tapering at their tops to blunt points.  
Nuclear missiles, fully armed and ready to fire at the touch of a button.

"The accounts are looking good," said Caroline, finishing her perusal of the ledger and putting the time-worn hardback exercise book to one side. She had more or less taken over the role of secretary to H'Sien Choi's operation, combining it with that of accountant, much to the resentment of the men H'Sien Choi had previously entrusted with those jobs. "Balance is £600,000."
 "It could be even better if turnover of stock was not so rapid," H'Sien Choi complained.   
She made a quick calculation on a scrap of notepaper. "By about £900,000." 
"You make a good job of this," H'Sien Choi said admiringly.
"I took a degree in economics and business admin."
 He gestured towards the bowl on his desk. It held a heap of white powder in which rested a pipe through which you snorted the substance into your nostrils. "No thanks," she said. "I had some earlier."  
 It was a lie. She avoided taking the cocaine as much as she could; after surviving her experience with Neghid Fouasi she could probably resist becoming addicted to it, but she preferred not to take the chance.  
 "I should like you to entertain tonight," said H'Sien Choi, taking her by the hand and rubbing the soft web of flesh between thumb and forefinger. 
She nodded. "Anything to please you, honey."
 "Have you decided whether or not you will stay with me?" he asked.
 She pretended to be thinking about it. “It depends if you want me to. I expect you'll get tired of me after a while, won't you?"
"Tired of you? Are you crazy?"
She smiled with pleasure. 
 Not for the first time since he had met her he wondered why she, already working for a fabulously wealthy international oil company, should need to supplement her earnings by immersing herself in a world of vice. He supposed she liked the thrill of being associated with someone like himself, the aura of sleazy glamour that surrounded his activities.
"Do any of your friends know what you're doing?" he asked.
 "They haven't a clue.” Gently she extracted herself from his grip. "I'm just going into town, if that's OK. I wanted to send a little present or two to my folks, something from one of the gift shops."
"How much money will you require?"
"Oh, about a hundred yen."
 He unlocked a desk drawer and took out a thick wad of notes. "Keep what is left."
 She pocketed the money. "Thanks," she said, kissing him. As she turned to go, her blonde fringe swinging across her face, she brushed her hand through his hair and down his cheek. "Be back soon."  
H'Sien Choi nodded briefly, and returned to his paperwork.  

Caroline trotted out of the building and down the street towards the main shopping precinct. She did indeed want to raid the gift shops, hoping to find some souvenirs for herself or her family; one of those little jade statuettes for example. But that wasn't the only reason why she had begged H'Sien Choi's leave. She had another phone call to make.

FIFTEEN
That night, as on most other nights, a massive crowd gathered outside the Jade Monkey to gaze in awe at the customers as they turned up in their big foreign cars; at men known to be highly dangerous but who gave off a spellbinding aura of power, and because of what they were seemed romantic and exciting. It was the closest the public would ever get to a taste of the world hidden behind the doors of the club. Its membership was very exclusive; limited, in fact, to those who could be trusted to keep quiet about the sort of things that went on there.  
 At eight o'clock a huge American limousine, black and gleaming in the streetlights, pulled in to the kerb. The headlights died, the chauffeur got out and opened the door, and H'Sien Choi stepped out together with his white consort.  The woman's shoulders were bare and the rest of her covered by a thick, all-enveloping fur coat. Enough of her cleavage was visible to give a tantalising hint of what must be full, perfectly formed breasts. Around her soft white throat a pearl necklace glittered in the moonlight, brilliantly reflecting its silvery rays. Her eyes were gleaming too, very blue eyes which seemed to mirror each minute thought and feeling that passed through her mind, blazing with the light of a powerful and intense personality. Clearly she was enjoying the attention she was attracting.
 They said she worked for one of the Western oil companies during the day, at night supplementing her salary by acting as H'Sien Choi's companion. It was obviously an intimate relationship, in every sense of the word. News of her had spread far and wide and people took every opportunity to catch a glimpse of her. A glimpse was all they would get.  They understood he was quite happy to hire her out, though only to friends, business associates and members of the club; it was part of her duties. Others could not afford the price, and to lay hands on her without Choi's say-so ran the risk of ending up with several of your fingers missing, perhaps your nose or ear; or all body parts separated from one another and tied up in little plastic bags at the bottom of the harbour. 
 The news that she would be dancing had brought every member of Hong Kong's underworld out on the town. And tonight, with the exception of those who were close friends or colleagues of H'Sien Choi, they would be charging extra.
 The air inside the auditorium rang with the punters' excited chatter as they swarmed in and took their seats. A waiter moved among them taking orders. Once they had settled down and the chattering subsided a little the compere mounted the stage and positioned himself in front of the microphone. All eyes turned to him expectantly.
 "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Specially for your entertainment we present to you tonight, all the way from London, the enchanting Caroline."
 The tassels hanging over the door of the changing room parted and Caroline strutted onto the stage to a thunderous burst of clapping and cheering. She wore a skimpy cocktail dress and a pair of sandals. It seemed that every member of the club was here, as she had expected; and most had brought at least one guest along. A few of H'Sien Choi's strong-arm men stood against the walls, keeping beady eyes open for trouble. Apart from the minders at the entrance to the club, and the man on the front desk, the rest of the building must be more or less empty.
 The raunchy music started up, slow and seductive. As she turned to face the audience her expression was provocative, challenging, insolent. Her hand went to the sash at her waist, pulled at the knot and unravelled it. In one swift fluid movement she slipped out of the dress, shrugging it from her, and it collapsed around her ankles. She stepped free of it, naked now except for a thong and a sequined bikini top, her breasts thrust forward impudently. 
 She let their eyes soak up the sight, posing before them with her hands on her hips and one leg bent slightly at the knee. Then she reached up and round, found the clasp of her top and undid it. Feeling it loosen, she whipped it off and flung it away with a scornful expression, suggesting nudity was one's proper state and one ought not to be bothered with such tedious encumbrances as clothes.
 For a minute or so she swayed to the rhythm of the music, her hands clasped behind her head. Then she started to dance.  She danced with perfect balance, perfect agility, all the time swinging her hips and undulating her buttocks, and moving from one style to another fluidly. Her pale pink skin glowed softly under the lighting.
 A collective gasp of astonishment travelled through the audience. Their heads all jerked forward simultaneously, eyes shining like those of drug addicts or religious fanatics, entirely captivated − enslaved − by the sight before them.  Almost involuntarily the hands of quite a few dropped to their crotches.  
 One clambered half onto the stage and made a grab for her. She raised a leg and kicked him away, a disdainful expression on her face. The clients loved it, roaring their approval and leaning forward even closer.  
 She felt them feasting their eyes voraciously on her white body, mentally stripping away what little there was in the way of clothing and raping her.
 She strode to the pole in the centre of the stage, took hold of it with one hand and swung herself around it in a half-circle. Bending over, her hand resting on the pole, she presented her backside to the audience, flexing the gluteus muscle several times. 
 Next she entwined herself seductively about the pole. She clenched her buttocks tightly around it and slid herself up and down, feeling the cold, smooth metal tickle her flesh deliciously.  
 She picked on a customer and bent to stare intently, challengingly, into his eyes. Dropping to her haunches in front of him she wiggled her breasts enticingly. Then, turning round, she lowered her bottom onto his lap and performed a series of churning motions, her taut derriere straining against its skimpy cladding. Returning to the pole, she arched her back against it, half closing her eyes and opening her mouth wide as one might when experiencing orgasm.
 As the music again mounted towards a crescendo, her hands gradually inched down. Simultaneous with its climax she took hold of her G-string, whipped it off, and broke into a broad triumphant smile. Another cheer rang up from the clientele, filling the room deafeningly.  
 The punters stared fixedly at the triangle of golden hairs that covered her womanhood. Then their attention was suddenly diverted from it as the doors burst open and a number of plainclothes policemen came running in, shouting at everyone to remain where they were. Each was brandishing an ID.
 Immediately panic broke out. There was a chorus of frantic gabbling. Putting on a look of horror, her jaw dropping, Caroline frantically snatched up her clothes and hugged them to her vital assets before dashing hell-for-leather off the stage and into the changing room. 
 Despite the policemen's warning some sprang from their seats and ran for the exits. The police planted themselves in front of the doors to bar their escape, drawing their guns and firing a few warning shots into the air. Meanwhile other police were searching the building, spreading out along its corridors and kicking open the doors of all the rooms. 
 Detective Inspector T'sien Ho found one room locked, and blasted it open. He stepped inside and immediately stiffened. The three Western girls sat slumped against one wall with their hands on their knees, staring into space with vacant, glassy eyes. As Ho watched the head of one lolled weakly onto her shoulder and a faint moan escaped her lips. His face tightened.
 He positioned himself at the door, looking out for trouble. The commotion from the auditorium had ceased, but he could still hear shouting and running footsteps from somewhere.  
 He saw Caroline Kent, her clothes back on, hurrying down the corridor towards him, accompanied by one of his colleagues. "You'd better keep out of sight," he told her. "Stay here for the moment." 
"Are the girls all right?" asked Caroline.
 "They're safe." The three of them waited until the sounds of commotion finally faded and another of Ho's men appeared. "It's finished," he said. "A few of them managed to slip away. The others are all under arrest or being questioned."
 "Good," Ho smiled, and turned to Caroline. "Remain here, I'll be back soon." He went outside, to look on as H'Sien Choi, his accomplices and dozens of other patrons of the Jade Monkey were bundled into a flotilla of police cars, their hands cuffed behind them. All in all, there were some forty police on the scene. The street seemed full of flashing lights, and the night air of wailing hooters.  
 Many of those arrested would probably be released without charge. It could not be proved they knew what was going on at the club, although they probably did, and their presence there was not in itself a crime. But there would be some interesting material amongst H'Sien Choi's papers, and though not everyone would be incriminated by it they could be sure of getting many convictions. A few people were already wanted in connection with offences committed elsewhere, similar ones to those for which the Jade Monkey was a front.  
 There would be plenty of evidence to jail the principal players, H'Sien Choi and his henchmen. The discovery of the drugged girls clinched the matter. All in all, the Hong Kong vice trade had suffered a devastating blow. Ho felt a savage thrill of joy, the blood in his veins stirring at the thought of having purged society of such filth.    
 He watched as the three Western girls were carried out to a waiting ambulance. Their immediate future would be a medical check-up and then, once they were on the way back to full health, a plane would take them back to their respective homelands.  
 The Chinese girls were also being driven away. Ho's face was grave as he watched them depart. He knew that once they had received any medical treatment that might be necessary, there would be nothing much the authorities could do for them.  They would probably be back on the prostitution circuit before long. And their evidence would be of little value when the case came to court, for they'd be too frightened to say much in case of reprisals. 
 One by one the various vehicles drove off, and when the last had gone the crowd of onlookers began to disperse, still talking excitedly about what had happened. Now it was safe for Caroline Kent to leave the building. Thinking it best to be away from here as quickly as possible, she marched out to the car with a policeman on either side of her and climbed in. Ho seated himself behind the wheel. "Well done," he grinned as they drove off towards IPL Hong Kong. "But I still can't believe the risk you were taking."
 "I had to do it. It meant a lot to me." For a moment Caroline was silent as certain memories, memories from not that long ago, reared their ugly heads.
"It was very brave of you. It is a pity no-one can know what you have done."
"They may know," she said. "One day."
"So what else did you find out?"
 "Well, from what H'Sien Choi told me I got the impression there were other organisations like his in Hong Kong. It's more likely than not."
 "It's possible the man who controlled his group may also be controlling them too. You have no idea who he was?"
 "That's one thing H'Sien Choi wouldn't say, even to me. He was obviously under orders not to let anyone else know, and scared of the consequences if he disobeyed them."
 "And there may be someone even higher than this man. The more responsibility is delegated, the greater the protection afforded the ultimate controller."
"We will just have to continue our enquiries," he sighed.
 And with that he changed the subject. "What will you do now?" he asked Caroline, feeling rather sad at the thought of her leaving the province.
 "I've still got some company business to sort out here; I can't really duck out of it. Then I'll be catching the first plane home."  
 She could not appear in court. The police would merely say they had been acting on an anonymous tip-off. No doubt it would be a help if she was there to give her evidence, and she would have done it gladly; but it was simply impossible.  Effectively she had been working for MI6 and they didn't want all their secrets dragged out into the open.  
 Just as well I've got an excuse, she thought grimly. If the wrong people found out about her involvement in the matter, she might well end up in the harbour where she would join all the others who had crossed H'Sien Choi during his long criminal career. Blood ties were strong here.

SIXTEEN
At her request, Caroline's room in the residential block at IPL HQ overlooked the sea, giving a panoramic view of the bay and the houses and office blocks strung out along its majestic sweep. 
 A notice on the wall exhorted her to "Question Authority!", by way of inviting her to inform the management if anything was not to her liking. It also said "Safety Needing Attention", "Be Care Of Depending Fire," "Sweep Away Six Injurious Insect" and "Pay Attention to civilisation", the last meaning she should behave in a fashion that was polite and considerate to other guests.  
 She was standing at the window gazing through it at the junks nestling together in the harbour, bobbing gently up and down on the swell, their spars and masts outlined against a setting sun which had stained the water blood red.  Reflecting on why she had come here to tread the world of Suzie Wong, at great risk to her life if any slip-up or chance discovery should arouse H'sien Choi's suspicion. It had been because of something that had happened not in Hong Kong but in Tokyo.
 The hostessing business had first started in the mid-1980s, and had been expanding ever since. Over the years, in response to newspaper ads in certain dubious or unsuspecting publications, thousands of girls from a variety of Western countries who were looking to pay off debts or overdrafts, support themselves during a student gap year or simply make easy money had been entering Japan on three-month visas, ostensibly as tourists, to work as "hostesses" in the clubs, bars and restaurants of Roppongi, Tokyo's red light district. They came from all walks of life, but the majority were products of respectable middle-class families. Many were public-school educated and most had graduated from university. Those who'd worked before had been secretaries, or something similar, before discovering the delights of hostessing.
 Most plied their trade illegally, yet with the full knowledge of both Japanese and Western governments. They could be put on a plane immediately if the authorities chose to act, but the business was a source of considerable profit and some of the people running the clubs were powerful figures who no-one wanted to get on the wrong side of. By signing on as hostesses the girls were entering a tightly-controlled, secretive world which discouraged publicity about itself. They did not often talk about their work. 
 Their clients were usually wealthy Japanese men − company directors or leading politicians − who could afford to pay them to be their companion for a few hours. Men who every Friday evening said goodnight to their staff and took the underground to Roppongi to join each other on the Japanese version of a pub crawl, often not returning to their wives until late the following morning.   
 The girls were interesting because they were exotically different, catering for that fascination with Western culture which many Japanese men have. They got a thrill simply from being talked to, cuddled and kissed by a beautiful young Western girl, although there was also the opportunity to improve one’s command of the English language. Whether things went any further than that was up to the girl; some hostesses were prepared to sleep with a customer, others not.  
 The English ones were the greatest prize of all. A busty Briton was more attractive to a red-blooded Japanese male than his own women, who tended to be small-breasted. And a Home Counties accent − real or faked − could sound aristocratic. That was how many foreigners tended to perceive English people, aristocratic; and to associate, and be seen associating, with an English girl gave the punters a powerful kick that boosted their ego. 
 Western girls also acted as lap, pole or table dancers. During their performances they would squat over a client's lap and wiggle their behinds, or kneel before them thrusting out and fondling their breasts. It served to excite them, perhaps with dangerous consequences. Sometimes if an escort refused a request from the customer to have sex with him, or he thought she was likely to, he used underhand methods to get his way. Clients became obsessive and stalked the objects of their desire, occasionally going so far as to follow them home to England. Girls had been assaulted in lifts, had been lured back to a client's apartment where they fell asleep to suddenly awaken miles away on a bed in some remote country villa, naked or with their clothing in disarray, later to realise they had been unconscious for two days. In their bloodstream traces were found of the date-rape drug Rohypnol. The girls usually did not bring charges either because they were working without a permit or because they did not want their parents to know the risks they had been taking. Sometimes it was clear that a girl had been stripped and photographed while comatose.  
Or worse...
 Clubs specialising in sado-masochism were very popular across Japan, and in one Roppongi hotel rooms were hired out by the hour to people wanting to practise it. There were rumours, apparently confirmed by a tip-off to the police at the height of the Blackman affair, of more than one gang who had talked of wanting to kidnap a European woman so they could rape, torture and finally kill her, keeping her for a year in all. Reputedly four people had actually been arrested, one of them confessing to his perverted intentions, but in the end the lead had fallen through.  
 The case had served to highlight the perils of hostessing. A young ex-British Airways stewardess had disappeared in Tokyo in the summer of 2000, and early the following year her dismembered body, each part encased in concrete, was discovered in a cave by the sea. She had struck up a friendship with a client named Joji Obara and gone off on a drive with him to the beach. How exactly she met her end was never found out, but something or other had gone wrong and Lucie Blackman died. When arrested on suspicion of her murder Obara was found to possess more than 200 films of sexual assaults he had made on drugged and comatose women.  
 In 1998 a Canadian hostess and dancer − like Lucie Blackman, an attractive blonde − mysteriously disappeared. She was last seen alive early one morning at a Roppongi club. Then there was the 1992 case of Carita Ridgway from Australia. Though a hostess and lap-dancer she, contrary to what people might have expected with such a person, was married, to a fellow Australian who had been working behind the bar in another club. They had both been aiming to earn some extra money before going home. A week before they were due to leave Japan Carita vanished, her grief-stricken husband eventually returning to Australia with the mystery of her disappearance unsolved. Obara was eventually charged with the murder of both women. It emerged that Carita Ridgway had died after her system reacted adversely to the drug he gave her. 
 Altogether some 20 properties owned by Obara were excavated, including one where he was known to have taken Western girls − some of whom, according to the locals, were raped. What had happened as a result Caroline didn't know.  
 Detectives believed at least one other maniac was still preying on hostesses in the Roppongi district, using the same tactics as Obara. There had been further alarming incidents, disappearances and abductions. Two girls from New Zealand had been kidnapped and locked in an apartment for two weeks, with the aim of shipping them to another country. Overhearing their captors talking, one of them learned that she was going to be killed. Fortunately, both managed to escape. But where − and what − had they been destined for?
 In the Blackman case there had been all kinds of theories. One was that the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, who controlled many of the bars where Western hostesses worked and were not people you messed with, had taken Lucie as a sex slave, intending to keep her half-drugged until there was no further use for her. Generally the Yakuza preferred to avoid the possible repercussions of kidnapping and enslaving a Western woman, but it was thought that some of their younger members were not so restrained. This, as it transpired, had not been Lucie's fate, but who was to say it had not happened, or could not happen, to other girls?  
 It had not been easy to establish the truth about all these matters. There was an initial reluctance to take the Blackman case seriously, Lucie's father claiming that the Tokyo nightclub owners tried to obstruct the police enquiry. The investigation only began in earnest, with 45 officers assigned to it, when he flew out to Tokyo and began to apply media and political pressure. Until then the police had been treating the case as just another missing person enquiry.  What investigations they had made had met with little success. The manager of the bar where Lucie had worked could not help but promised to send along a copy of his customer records. After the detective who saw him had left he was heard to complain that his business was supposed to be a discreet one and that every time one of his clients was questioned he lost a customer. Had it not been for this kind of attitude Joji Obara might have been arrested a lot sooner.
 Foreign women working illegally on tourist visas would not be reported if they went missing. And the identities given by customers could be false.
 And the girls were still coming. Some had decided to get out after suffering a particularly disturbing experience, but they were soon replaced by others. Only if things actually did go wrong would a girl start to have second thoughts, and then of course it might be too late. Indeed there were even more hostesses in Tokyo, by all accounts, than before the Blackman case. This was what distressed and dismayed Caroline the most.  
 Something, she decided, just had to be done. The more it was proved that the business was dangerous, the more likely the girls would steer clear of it or the politicians finally see sense and act to curb the trade. And the people guilty of kidnap and rape and whatnot would get their just desserts. It was proving difficult, however, to elicit the sympathy of either the public or their leaders. There was a feeling that the hostesses were little better than prostitutes, since they had undoubtedly involved themselves to some extent in the sleazier side of life, and consequently deserved anything bad that came to them. That cut no ice with Caroline. Even if someone had been stupid, the exploitation of that stupidity for evil purposes was a far greater sin. 
 Her main aim was to find out what had happened to the missing women. It could be they had suffered the fate of Lucie Blackman and that their bodies were buried somewhere within Japan. But no trace of them had been found. Girls often went on trips to Taiwan or other countries in the region with their clients; perhaps some of them hadn't come back. And there were rumours in Japan that Western girls abducted there had been taken away and sold abroad, with Hong Kong one of the first ports of call. White women were appreciated there, as they were throughout the Far East, and the place had certainly had a thriving sex industry in the past.
 Rumours usually had some degree of truth in them, or they wouldn't come about in the first place. On the other hand, they could result from someone having misheard, or misinterpreted, what another person had said. And there was a third possibility, that the rumour had been started to throw people looking for the missing women off the scent.  
Or was it all just a sick hoax?  
 The New Zealand girls were to have been taken to "another country", going by remarks they had heard their captors make. But this time the rumours, both in Hong Kong itself and in Japan, seemed stronger and more frequent.
 "Another country" could mean Hong Kong, or it could mean somewhere else. She hoped it wasn't somewhere else. She needed a clear lead to go on.
 She outlined her theory to her friend and colleague Chris Barrett, having raised the matter casually with him one lunch break. "I doubt it," he said. "They were killed, either by accident or to stop them talking. Their killers then tried to hide the evidence by cutting up the bodies and dumping the pieces somewhere. That's what happened to the Blackman girl, and you can bet your life it happened to all the others who've gone missing." Most likely, Caroline thought. But she couldn't be sure. If there was any possibility they had been sent to Hong Kong, she would have to move fast, because there was no telling where they might go after that. And to take care. In situations like these, once the search for her begins those who have abducted the victim will be safe from arrest, and she from death − for the time being − if she has been exported to another country, provided the trail goes cold and she cannot be traced to wherever she has been sent. Ultimately, the best chance of extricating the captive safely from her imprisonment is by a sudden successful raid on the right place. Otherwise, once those holding her know the police are getting close to them, she may be killed and her body disposed of in order to get rid of the evidence. Some of the rumours suggested the girls were being disguised for part of the time as Orientals, their hair cut short and dyed and the profile of their faces altered by plastic surgery, so they wouldn't be recognised at airports and harbours, although Caroline didn't think that was very likely; she felt it would be going to too much trouble, as well as killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.
 She sat down to draw up her plans. She would be in Hong Kong on company business for a few days starting next Tuesday.  And since she had a few days' leave due to her after that, she could prolong her time in the place a little longer.  With any luck, that should give her enough time to do what she wanted (she told H'Sien Choi she would be in the province indefinitely).
 Before leaving England she got together all the books she could find on the subject, visited the Newspaper Library at Colindale in North London to study the reports in all the leading dailies, and viewed a tape of a recent television documentary. Then she went to see her friend Rachel Savident at the offices of a certain organisation to which she had once belonged and which was concerned with the preservation of British interests overseas, by means other than conventional diplomacy, where they were called for.
SEVENTEEN
"I don't suppose there's much you can do yourself?"
 "I'm not sure it falls within our remit," Rachel had told Caroline. "It's protecting the lives of British citizens abroad, sure. But these days we're all tied up dealing with al-Qaeda and people like that. There may have been a time once when we could have done it; not now."
 "I thought so," Caroline sighed, nodding understandingly. "Well, in that case..."   
 Rachel listened as she explained her plan. It was crazy and dangerous, but then nothing to do with Caroline particularly surprised her any more. She said as much. "If you don't mind my saying so, it's more than a little daft. But then so was the business with Fouasi, I guess."
 "If I hadn't done that we wouldn't have known about the little scheme he'd cooked up with Saddam. And the world would be in a right state."
"True," conceded Rachel.
 "No-one else seems interested in chasing it up," Caroline complained. "Our own police are overstretched, they've got their hands full over here. And from what I gather the authorities in Hong Kong don't seem particularly bothered."
"And you're not put off by all the dangers?" 
 Caroline's head sank for a moment, then she looked Rachel straight in the face. "You know why it means so much to me, don't you?"
 Rachel smiled. "Yes, I do," she said gently. "I'm just a bit worried for you, that's all. I don't like to think of the same thing happening all over again."  
She changed the subject with a sigh. "How is that Mandy girl now, anyway?"
 "Doing fine," Caroline replied. "The people at the Centre say she hasn't touched any drugs for ages." She returned to the business in hand. "Look, I'll need to say I'm working for someone official. Otherwise the Honkers police will think I'm stark raving mad. I can't see our own cops agreeing somehow.  But you..." She looked at Rachel imploringly.
 Rachel left her on her own for a few minutes while she went to consult with a superior. Then she returned, perching herself on the edge of the desk. "We'll do it," she sighed. "You can mention my name if you like. But you're on your own on this one. Don't expect us to step in and help you if you run into any trouble."
"I know where I stand," Caroline said with dignity.
 Two days later, she was somewhere above the vast sprawling Eurasian land mass on a China Airways 747 bound for Hong Kong. 
 She liked the place despite its faults, just as she had liked South America despite its faults. It was more traditionally Chinese than other parts of the country, having for one reason or another suffered less from the Cultural Revolution, whose effects elsewhere had been traumatic and far-reaching. 
 This meant that custom and protocol were very important. Whenever, in business dealings with your Chinese associates, you handed them a piece of paper you were supposed to use both hands in doing so, though hardline Communists frowned on the tradition as a throwback to feudal times. It was a ritual, just like the exchange of business cards at a meeting − itself something the Chinese placed more insistence on than Westerners. 
 It all seemed to her quite quaint and charming. The Chinese were extremely hospitable people, and she had already been invited to several people's houses, eagerly accepting each invitation because she knew anything less would be considered impolite. At these meetings everyone shook hands with one another, afterwards paying every attention to the each guest's needs and making sure no-one felt left out. It was important that all present were genuinely enjoying themselves. But this solicitousness was combined with a meticulous regard for position and etiquette, everyone seating themselves in order of seniority when it came to eating.
 She noted with pleasure that women were treated as equals − in contrast to what she had been led to expect − and you should not give excessive and patronising deference to them, other than that demanded by their rank and position. This sexual equality was evident in the public streets where many women could be seen in trousers − in contrast to business meetings where formality was the rule and they wore suits and  skirts instead  − everyday dress being somewhat casual. At the same time, she noted that wives were not normally invited to business meals. 
 Both men and women dressed conservatively, without a good deal of make-up or jewellery.  
 The Chinese liked a good nosh. In business dealings with them she found it useful to discuss things over a meal, usually in a restaurant; agreements on troublesome matters were easier to reach with the help of a bottle of whisky and a plate of Beijing duck. The meals went on for a long time, with numerous courses being served and multiple toasts made. She was delighted to find that they did indeed use chopsticks, which took a lot of getting used to. They drank beer and wine but rarely to excess, knowing it would lead to embarrassing or violent behaviour. The last they were particularly keen to avoid; though they were not afraid to use physical force, they did so only in the last resort and for good reason.
 In China, respect and deference guaranteed patronage − connections. The word for it was guanxi. It enabled you to obtain goods and services you might otherwise have to pay for, or land cushy and prestigious jobs. You would be expected to reciprocate or aid would be cut off. Foreigners who did not already benefit from guanxi were excluded from the system, some tourists having to resort to bribes to buy things.
 Essential in the forging of connections was the giving of gifts. It was good manners when visiting people at their homes or for a meal to bring some sort of present, such as flowers or a box of chocolates.  
 Like everywhere else, China did have its flipside. Firstly there was the heavy smoking − indulged in equally by men and women − that went on in public places, turning the air so thick she found she could hardly breathe. Telling people to stop was a non-starter since it would cause offence. She understood the government was trying to do something about the problem; so far it didn't seem to be having much luck.  With it went the causal discarding of cigarette butts, and the even more obnoxious habit of grinding them into the carpet. Then there was the chronic spitting; it wasn't pleasant to be stuck in, say, a bus with 50 people who felt compelled to pave the floor with saliva, giving you the dreaded "China syndrome" otherwise known as chronic bronchitis. 
 These things sat oddly with the general insistence on manners and politeness. It made her think the Chinese were a peculiar sort of people, until she reflected that they were little different from other nationalities in being riddled with contradictions; the English, for example, could be level-headed about some things and ridiculously sentimental when it came to others, like animals or the royal family (strong monarchist though she was).
 Thirdly there were the queues; instead of forming themselves in an orderly line to buy a rail ticket or a bus seat people would surge forward in one huge disorderly mass which took twice as long to deal with. It was a consequence, she supposed, of there being so many people.  
 But although there were drawbacks to living and working in China, it was physically more or less safe. Foreigners were generally treated well. It was unusual to experience racial insults, still less physical attack, though she gathered it did happen. But you could be excluded from "Chinese-only" hotels and the prices you had to pay for various services were often higher, something tourists had long been complaining about. Though she herself seemed to be exempted from these rules, she sensed it was mainly because of her beauty. Much as it might seem to her indignant colleagues that she enjoyed the privilege, privately she was embarrassed and therefore also annoyed. And she wasn't allowed to drive herself; being a stupid foreigner she would no doubt crash the car and cause a major accident.
 It helped to be from a predominantly white nation; she gathered that Indians and blacks weren't treated, on the whole, with as much respect. She sensed − and saw in practice − that in Chinese eyes there existed a kind of racial hierarchy, with themselves at the top, whites in the middle, and other Asians and blacks at the bottom.  
 Yes, provided you kept your mouth shut about issues like Tibet (much as Caroline would have liked to take her hosts to task about their treatment of that country) you'd be alright.  There were thieves in China as elsewhere, but your actual person was in no danger despite the alarming notices dotted about the place advising "be careful not to be stolen". It was only when you stepped off the street and into the sleazy world of the clubs and bars that you might, perhaps, be putting yourself in danger. As a foreigner she was the object of considerable interest but although she had heard of rapes and attempted rapes of foreign women no-one had ever sought to invade her body space more than was permissible. The average person in the street didn't seem that hot on sex, mercifully. 
 When she went to see the police authorities in Hong Kong to explain her plan they simply could not believe what she was proposing. The senior policeman to whom she was directed by the clerk at the reception desk stared at her for a long time, then invited her to come with him.  
 She liked Tsien Ho, the officer in charge of the Vice Squad, the moment she set eyes on him. He rose from his seat to greet her, hand outstretched. He was broad and powerfully built but he had a compassionate, friendly sort of face, though she detect a hint of steel beneath his benign demeanour. He invited her to sit down.  
 "I did not think this was the kind of matter the British intelligence services would take an interest in," he commented as he sat down. His tone made clear his puzzlement.  
 She explained her situation with regard to MI6. He listened, intrigued, thinking she didn't somehow seem the kind of person who'd be a secret agent. A quick call to London would confirm her authenticity; to his surprise, it did.  
 She asked if he was aware of the possible Hong Kong connection to the disappearance of the Western hostesses in Japan. He replied that he was, and had been investigating one or two leads but without success. It was obvious he had taken on the case out of the goodness of his heart and that no-one else in the Hong Kong police was particularly interested.  Caroline could guess why. If people chose to involve themselves in that kind of thing...Ho told her the problem was one of limited resources, but she could tell at once he was merely covering for his superiors' apathy. 
"It seems you may need my help," she told him.
 "Oh, yes?" he replied amusedly. "So what are you proposing we do?"  
 "I have a plan," she announced dramatically, and outlined what she had in mind. There could be no harm in it; except perhaps to herself, as Ho pointed out.
 He contemplated her thoughtfully. "What is your date of birth?" he asked.  
 Bemusedly Caroline told him. He consulted the combined horoscope and calendar which hung on the wall. "As I thought," he smiled. "You are a tiger." 
 Caroline was delighted with the news. "Then they'd better watch it, hadn't they?"
 Ho's manner became grave. "If you wish to do this, I will not stop you," he told her. "But I must warn you of the dangers you face. The people you are dealing with do not scruple to kill."
"Perhaps you should teach me Kung Fu or something," she said.  
 "Are you serious?" She noted the twinkle in his eye, his slightly wicked expression. 
"Why, do you do it?" she asked.
 "Contrary to the impression given by countless Western films and novels," said Ho, "not every Chinese person is a Kung Fu expert. But I thought it useful to learn the art {to its practitioners it was an art}given the kind of people I sometimes have to deal with in my work."
"All right," said Caroline. "You're on."
 He then took her off to the gym at Police Headquarters, where she kitted herself out in karate pyjamas.  
 "There are several different styles of Kung Fu." Ho studied her thoughtfully. "You are of slim build. It may be that Wing Chun will suit you best."
"Wing Chun?"
 "It was originally invented by a nun from the Shaolin monastery. She taught her skills to a young girl named Yin Wing Chun, who used them to defend herself against a local bully who attempted to force himself upon her." 
"A woman invented it?"
"That's right."
Caroline punched the air in a Girl Power sign. "Wo!"
 Charming visions of using it against certain men back home floated before her eyes, until Ho spoke, startling her out of her reverie. He explained that Wing Chun was an ancient Chinese art, but relatively young compared with Chinese civilisation itself. It was originally a very secret system, passed on only to family members and close friends. This was no longer the case. Contrary to popular perceptions martial arts were not shrouded in mystery, or at any rate they shouldn’t be. That was not beneficial to anybody wishing to learn them. 
 "It's not like it is in Bruce Lee, just violence; although Wing Chun certainly had an influence on Lee. Remember that, and you will make good progress. Have you heard about the Malaysian master who broke the leg of a Thai boxer with his finger? Or Sun Lutang, who could stand with one side of his body flush against the wall, from the side of his foot to his shoulder, and lift the other leg without losing his balance?  Do you think you'll get that far?" 
"Hope so," Caroline grinned.
 As a woman she was physically less strong than a man, one reason why Wing Chun was ideal for her. It placed the emphasis not on strength but on speed. Its forms were simple and direct, doing away with the pretty flourishes that characterised other styles. While some complained that this made the art unattractive, the stress on effectiveness rather than glamour was crucial to success at Wing Chun. Several times Ho was forced to remind Caroline of this, and she didn't like it. 
 Wing Chun depended on an understanding of angles and sensitivity to force to overcome aggression. Typical techniques included swift, low kicks, close body control and short, fast, very accurate strikes with the hands.  
 It was based on the theory that there was an invisible line running down the centre of the body, through sensitive regions such as the eyes, nose, lips, mouth, throat, heart, solar plexus and groin. It was this line which had to be attacked or defended. As a result the wide sweeps of western boxers were dispensed with, punches taking their strength mainly from the shoulders, elbows and wrists. They were delivered in a straight line along the shortest distance between attacker and defender, and with great rapidity.  
 Wing Chun made use of the way the human body was jointed.  Hand and arm shapes were triangulated and so could act as wedges which caused attacks to be deflected to one side. Use was made of the strength that came from this natural triangulation as opposed to muscular strength; this allowed the limbs to remain relaxed, and so move quickly and freely from one position to another.  
 Physically the body acted in the manner of a rotating cylinder. If a force was applied to any point on its circumference, it would spin in the same direction as the force. The idea was that if you took a blow you moved with it, reducing any damage you might sustain and dispelling the attacking force. The body must pivot in a smooth, fluid, controlled way around the point of contact with the attacker, so that you remained balanced and able to respond immediately to their assault.
 When you changed position you kept one leg stationary and pushed from it, avoiding an initial step or shift of the weight which could signal your intention to your opponent.  You circled round them, waiting until the angle or range was right to launch your attack so that you could move in and trip them or block their attack.
 Sometimes as your opponent moved in to close with you you stepped forward at a 45 degree angle, rather like a tennis player receiving a serve, avoiding the initial attack and at the same time making your strike. Short fast steps were needed if the opponent was very mobile.
 Kicks had to be swift, direct and low, and aimed at whatever was nearest out of the feet, shins, knees, thighs, groin or hips. To kick, the body must first be stable and balanced, with both feet firmly on the ground. The hips must be rotated forward and at the same angle. You had to remember not to kick down, which would disrupt your posture and unbalance you. Often the forward kick was performed while pivoting, gaining dynamic torque from the circle.
 If your posture was disrupted a kick could be used to right it. Where the posture was broken backwards you kicked forwards to restore your balance. If attacked from the side you would kick in the same direction; side kicks were also useful to break arm locks.  
 If an opponent attempted to kick you from close range you had to react fast; as soon as his leg left the ground you picked your own lead leg up, preventing it being trapped against the ground, and kicked his supporting or kicking leg away. If an opponent attempted to perform a foot sweep on your lead leg you needed to react fast to avoid it. 
 Altogether you had to be very mobile and agile, able to change direction quickly in response to an attack. As a good dancer Caroline thought she would have no problem. Some of the movements could also be likened to a tennis player receiving a service, or someone playing tag at school. She had a good sense of balance, exercised regularly and so was pretty fit. 
 Ho was a good teacher. His philosophy was that teaching was itself a skill, as part of which students should be encouraged to question and enquire, even disagree with what the teacher said. He also had patience, which he had learned from his study of Tai Chi and other traditional Oriental disciplines. She found herself following everything he said, absorbing it, without difficulty.
 They would try punching and turning first, then kicking. She practised both on a punch ball and on him. "Relax your arm...bend it...keep your hand open, the elbow low and in line with the arm...don't pull back before you punch, and don't move your body...tense your fist...that's it. Drive from the elbow...roll up your fingers as the hand travels forward...
 "Pivot as you punch...move behind the blow, that's right... now go for a short sharp push...drive the heel of the palm from the elbow...strike upwards slightly..." She threw a punch which hit him quite hard on the biceps, and from his expression knew he had felt it. "That's great. Try not to bounce back, you'll lose energy in your joints...
 "Now relax your arm and fist." Then she could use it again immediately, to hit or to perform some other action.
 They moved from delivering punches, which it seemed she had mastered without any problems, to avoiding them. "Keep your spine straight and upright when you turn. And make sure your weight is on your heels, or you'll sway about too much. Keep your hips rotated forward...your head straight...that's right..."
 He delivered a smooth, light blow at her shoulder, one that contained power without the ability to hurt. She turned fast and smoothly, dodging the punch easily enough, but somehow, quite why she couldn't be sure, her feet became tangled up with one another. She fell and landed heavily, jarring her backside.
"Ow!" she yelled, rubbing her bruised coccyx and wincing.
He helped her to her feet. "Let's try again," he smiled.
 He delivered a punch to her right forearm. She turned with it, but too soon and too far, and it missed. She tilted over, losing her balance, and once again found herself literally sitting at his feet. 
 They tried it several times, each with the same result; Caroline picked herself up from the floor embarrassed and angry, her face bright red.
 Ho considered. Wing Chun was a system that seemed to become more complex, difficult and baffling, at every step. The rewards were fantastic. But there might simply not be time to teach her it. It was a highly scientific affair in which discipline, patience and hard work were needed. It was possible for a complete novice to become competent within one year, although as with any true art practical ability was only the beginning; there were mental disciplines involved which constituted a very different kind of ball game. Maybe Caroline would become truly proficient given time, but they didn't have the time.
"Perhaps we had better abandon this," he suggested. 
"Perhaps we had," she agreed ruefully. 
 He could see that she was rather upset at her failure, and gave her a consoling pat on the shoulder. "Don't worry. Some people can do it, some can't. There's nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe if you keep at it you'll get it right sooner or later."
"Maybe," said Caroline.
 Perhaps she had been too cocky − it wouldn't be the first time she'd messed something up that way. Or maybe there was some mysterious block that prevented her from doing it properly.
 Had she been so worried at failing to get both the punches and the turning right that she'd overloaded her mind, blown a fuse and lost it altogether?  
 "Ah well," she said at length, sighing wistfully. "You can't be good at everything."  Maybe that would be asking too much from Providence, or God, or whatever it was she believed in and had so far kept her safe throughout all her exploits.  Assuming it was Providence, and not just luck.
 With the project to turn her into Bruce Lee put on the back burner for the time being, her thoughts turned to the question of where to begin their search. "If those girls are here somewhere, where's the most likely place?" she asked as they headed for the changing rooms.
 "One possibility is a club called the Jade Monkey. It is owned by a man named H'Sien Choi. He has long been suspected of involvement in the white slave trade but there has never been any proof. People are afraid to talk, of course. The evidence would have to be very strong to convict him, since he is protected by many powerful people.
 "He has a predilection for white women, blonde white women.  It should be easy for you to establish yourself in his confidences."
 So that night after supper Caroline took the bus chartered by the company into town and, consulting the map in her guide book, set off to find the Jade Monkey. She could hear the music playing within the building as she approached the main door. Inside, she found herself in a foyer with a reception desk in the centre. She was greeted by a bouncer who asked if she was a member. When she replied that she wasn't he told her the entrance fee and ushered her politely towards the desk. After she had paid the receptionist the bouncer directed her towards a flight of steps which led down to a basement, where it seemed most of the action went on. 
 The ceiling and walls were speckled with patches of light cast by a revolving wasp's nest mobile. On a dais a scantily-clad Western girl danced energetically to pounding disco music, watched intently by dozens of gleaming-eyed Chinese men. Caroline tried to work out where the girl came from, but it could have been any of the countries with a sizeable white population. 
 Was she there willingly? Eventually, from her manner and the way she chatted to the clientele afterwards, before disappearing off to get changed, Caroline decided that she was. Nevertheless, there was something deeply disturbing about the whole scene.
 She understood it was now very difficult for a white person to get a job in Hong Kong following its transfer back to China, the withdrawal of the old imperial power. There was one way in which they − if female − could be assured of regular and profitable employment but it was a kind of work neither safe nor salubrious. Although obviously Hong Kong was not going to systematically abduct scores of women from the West and force them into such a trade, it nevertheless seemed to her somehow a turning of the tables, and one of a particularly disturbing kind.  
 She bought herself a drink, then selected an unattended table right in the centre of the room, where she would be most likely to be noticed. Moving fast she went and sat down there, hooking one leg over the other. Her skirt rode up a little and she smoothed it back into place. Don't overdo it, she told herself.  
 After a while she realised that a man on the other side of the room was signalling to her. Somewhere in his forties, he wore a Versace suit with diamond cufflinks and was reasonably good-looking. Noticing his interest the other men immediately moved out of her vicinity, from fear or respect or both. 
She seated herself beside him. "Hello," he smiled. "Where are you from?"
 "London," she replied. "Well, Kingston-on-Thames actually.  That's just outside it."
"Are you here on holiday?"
"Company business. I'm on an extended assignment here."
"I see. So, you are from London. Have you met the Queen?"
 "Once," she replied. "I was out walking in Windsor Great Park and she was driving a car. She nearly knocked me down."
 The conversation went on in this vein for some time. All throughout Caroline's demeanour was totally relaxed and natural, her words flowing uninhibitedly. From time to time she cracked a joke, allowing herself to fall against him as she convulsed with laughter. 
"Let me get you a drink," he said eventually.  
 She nodded to show her appreciation of the offer. "Thanks. I'll have a Bacardi."
 He might have been trying to get her drunk. Or there might be something else in the drink as well as alcohol. But hopefully she'd convinced him by now that he didn't need to overpower her by one means or another to get what he wanted.  
 He crossed to the bar, the other guests moving hurriedly aside to let him pass. A minute later he rejoined her. 
 She was careful not to down too much in one go, just taking a few sips from time to time. She was worried that he might sense her caution and become suspicious, but he didn't notice, seeming completely captivated by her. She went on flirting with him, telling jokes and amusing stories and fascinating him with her detailed accounts of life in Britain. She laughed uproariously whenever he made an attempt at humour, each time resting her head on his shoulder or her hand on his wrist.
 He asked her about her family, and her job; how much did she earn, and was she happy with it? More or less, she said. But female executives weren’t paid as much as their male colleagues, even in an age of supposed sexual equality.
"I know how you could make up for that," he smiled.
"Oh yes?" she replied with interest. "And how's that?"
 There followed a slight pause, then H'Sien Choi smiled again, a sly gleam in his eye. "Will you sleep with me?" He had evidently decided the moment was right.
 She looked as if she was thinking about it, then said: "how much?"
 "A thousand pounds for one night. But if you do it every night you will earn more than you could ever have dreamed of."
"How long would it be for?"
 "As long as you want. But believe me, while you are with me you will be like a princess. A queen."  
 Again she pretended to consider the offer. Then nodded slowly. "All right, sounds good. I'll give it a try, anyway."
"Perhaps you would like to come back home with me?"
"Now? Yeah, OK." They got to their feet.  
 By now it was clear to him he did not need to make her drunk or drug her to be sure of his catch. It was something he had wanted to establish before he took such a step.  
 H'Sien Choi, as he had by now revealed himself to be, lived in a house on Hong Kong Island, across the harbour from the main city of Kowloon. From it a path led down to a private beach, where what Caroline guessed were "Keep Out" notices warned off inquisitive members of the public. The house was set well back from the road among trees and surrounded by a high fence. H'Sien Choi guarded his privacy jealously, as well he might in his position.  
 In the huge living room, furnished in Western style, he poured a couple of drinks for them and they sat down together to chat. They had drunk less than half their glasses when he put his down and smiled at her. "Shall we go upstairs?"
"Why not?" She put on a seductive expression.  
 He had already raised the question of extras, telling her that if she agreed to them her salary would be substantially increased. She accepted, for it was vital she kept him happy.  Afterwards the money could always go to charity.  
 As she lay down on the bed with her legs spread wide, and H'Sien Choi's condom-sheathed manhood sank into her, Caroline shut her eyes and thought of England.
 Each evening from then on, as soon as her supper had gone down, she had taken the bus from the company HQ into town and met Choi at the Jade Monkey, where they would sit and watch the entertainment or spend their time drinking and chatting happily in the bar. She usually didn't return to the company until four in the morning.
 She had intercourse with H'Sien Choi, or one of his associates, an average of four times a night. For each session he paid her handsomely. She knew she was good in bed, and decided to use each occasion as a test, trying out her technique on him as a preparation for when she was married − in case she ever did take such a step. And trying to imagine she was doing it with someone she liked.  
 One night there was an excursion to a club owned by a business associate of Choi's; he left her in the foyer of the building for a moment while he went off for a brief confab with the proprietor, discussing things he obviously didn't want anyone else to hear.
 Gazing about her in idle curiosity, she saw a door standing open and on an impulse went to see what was behind it. She found herself looking into a vast room like the interior of a warehouse; it was what she later learned was called a Kisaeng house. One wall was entirely of glass; she couldn't see what the others were made from because the room was packed with women, some two or three hundred of them, all in brief bikinis which left little to the imagination, standing around or sitting on chairs while scores of immaculately-clad Oriental men (Japanese, she reckoned) leered at them through the glass. Each girl had a number pinned to her clothing (such as it was),written in black felt tip on a disc of cardboard. As far as she could see all were Asiatics; petite sylph-like figures with smooth, shining brown skin and glossy black hair. Their expressions were dull and listless.  
 The men were inspecting what was on show and making their choices, rather like someone buying things from a shop. Every time a man saw a girl he liked he wrote down the number on a notepad for future reference. Noting their goggling eyes, Caroline wondered whether it was they or the girls who most resembled fish in an aquarium tank. 
 As she stood there taking in the scene one of the girls nearest to the door shifted her position slightly, looking straight at Caroline. She was little more than a child.
 Something flashed in the girl's eyes for a second, and her expression changed. The eyes, wide and doe-like, continued to stare into Caroline's; the English girl knew exactly what the look in them was meant to convey.  
 Hearing footsteps approach, she shut the door and hurriedly moved away from it. She didn't know whether she was meant to see what went on in the room.
 Choi appeared with a man she presumed was the proprietor, and beckoned her smilingly to come with them. She sensed he knew she had seen the girls, but he didn't seem bothered in the slightest. 
 There seemed to be a definite hierarchy to the business, Caroline later reflected as she sat dining with Choi and his friend in the main room of the club. Hostessing and table dancing for the white girls, with sometimes a screw thrown in if the punters were lucky, plain prostitution for the Asian ones. Her feelings were mixed, a cocktail of thoughts chasing each other round the inside of her head. She had never seen why you shouldn't be proud of being white, political correctness and racism and all that notwithstanding, and so she was. The idea of being considered a kind of aristocracy, worthy of being accorded privilege and deference, gave her a powerful buzz.  
 The feeling seemed important to her. At the same time another part of her soul was angered that someone would grant her preferential treatment just because of her race. As if it made her better. She was being invited to participate in a system of discrimination. And however much he might venerate her looks, her body, and appreciate her effervescent personality she sensed H'Sien Choi still regarded himself as superior to her. He had not sought explicitly to indicate where she stood by word or deed, but it was nonetheless pretty obvious despite all his protestations of undying love and readiness to indulge all her whims. And that, of course, offended her. Only second best, in the end. 
 When I'm still being relegated to a second class status, it's a poor excuse for putting myself above someone else, she thought savagely.
 At that moment H'Sien Choi turned to speak to her, fortunately just missing her fierce expression, her tightly pursed lips and blazing eyes. She had composed herself just in time.
 She put on a smile and tucked into her meal, indulging in the usual cheerful banter while she ate. But all the time she couldn't help thinking of what she had seen in the Kisaeng house. The one thing she would remember − which she knew would haunt her for the rest of her life − was the frightened eyes of the little girl in the glass-walled room.
 The following night, H'Sien Choi was talking to her in his office when his manner suddenly changed, becoming thoughtful and withdrawn. He studied her intently, seeming to be appraising her. She responded with a quizzical look. "What's up?" she asked briskly.  
 "There are certain things you must keep secret if you wish to carry on enjoying the privileges you gain from your association with me," he told her. 
I'd lose a good deal more than that, she thought.
 "Come with me." She followed him down the corridor to a plain wooden door, which he unlocked with one of the dozen or so keys on the ring he always carried about him. They stepped through into a small room bare of furnishings. 
 Sitting slumped against the wall were the three Western girls, their glazed eyes staring emptily at Caroline and H'Sien Choi. Choi looked hard at Caroline, studying her reaction.  
 He'd been trying to decide whether to take the risk, wondering if he'd sized her up correctly. He knew that if he was to keep her he ought to make it clear that he trusted and could keep no secrets from her.
 Caroline fought hard to banish any suggestion of triumph, or of anger, from her manner. She hesitated briefly, almost imperceptibly, then put into her voice a harsh, gravelly, brothel madam tone. "Suits me. Those stupid little bitches knew the risks they were taking. They deserve it, if you ask me."
If she had said anything else, her life would have been forfeit.  
"What's going to happen to them?" she asked casually.
 "They will stay here for a while longer, then he will take them and we will get some new girls. What then happens to the old ones I do not know. They are out of my hands."
 Satisfied, he turned to go, and she went with him. "You must not speak of this to anyone," he cautioned her as he relocked the door. There was just the right degree of menace in his voice.  
"You really think I would?" she responded in mock indignation.  
H'Sien Choi smiled at her.  
 They went back down the corridor to the office. Behind his back, Caroline grinned and punched the air. Yes!
 And that, basically, was it; that was how she had come to expose H'Sien Choi's vile activities. A pity she could not celebrate it openly. But then that was the life she chose to lead. The life she had found she could not, despite the darker realms it so often drew her into, give up.

Scotland Yard
As national security was involved, the enquiry into the Khambatti murder had been entrusted to SO13. The department had three officers whose task was to investigate and deal with possible threats to the state or its citizens whenever they arose; the one charged with handling the Khambatti affair and its implications was Derek Slate, only just appointed to his new post. The team Slate had assembled to carry out the investigation were now meeting in the briefing room which had been allocated to them at the Yard. 
 "Right, let's go over what we know," he began once they had all taken their seats. "The dead man was Fereydoun Khambatti, 26, a mature student at the West Middlesex College of Further Education. Born in Iran to a devout Muslim family; parents fled the Shah's regime when he was a year old because his father was suspected of plotting against the state. He later became radicalised by the Islamic revolution there. We've been unable to establish any previous connections with terrorist organisations, but then he'd have been careful to cover them up. None of his family, friends or work colleagues have been able to throw any light on the matter. On the face of it, our Mr Khambatti was an ordinary, decent, law-abiding sort of bloke.
 "Forensics say the bullet was fired from a Uzi handgun.  That doesn't give us an awful lot to go on since we know there are all kinds of illegal weapons being smuggled into this country. There's no reason to suppose terrorists, with their connections, couldn't have got hold of some." 
 "Have you learned anything from talking to the local residents, Mike?" he asked Thompson.
 "Nothing there, Guv. Besides those kids several people heard the commotion, but they can't say where exactly the killers came from. We've interviewed everyone in that street, everyone who wasn't away from home at the time, but no luck."
 "And we've searched all the houses in that road, and found nothing." In the circumstances Slate had felt justified in applying for a warrant − which had been granted immediately − but predictably there had been complaints from some of the residents about fascism and invasion of privacy. 
 "They may not have come from there," pointed out Bob Morris, who like Thompson had followed Slate over from his previous posting.
 "Exactly. But none of the other stations has reported anything suspicious happening on their patches at around the time of the murder."
 Slate let himself sink deep into his chair, breathing out long and hard like a deflated balloon. "What this means," he said, "is that we know a terrorist atrocity is going to be committed in this country at some time in the future, but not when or where or by who. What an absolutely bloody marvellous situation to be in."


EIGHTEEN
For a while no-one said anything. There was total silence, broken from time to time by someone tapping their pencil absently on the table. People looked at each other and then averted their gaze, staring vacantly into the ether. For those few minutes, all Slate and his colleagues could think of was the cold sick feeling that had welled up in their guts.
 It was Thompson who made the first attempt to break the stalemate.
"Well, we can't just sit and do nothing, Guv." 
"I'm not suggesting we do," snapped Slate. 
 "But what do we do?" Morris spread his arms helplessly.  "We've got absolutely nothing to go on."
 Slate smacked his lips. "There is one possible line of enquiry," he said thoughtfully. "The man who died was a Muslim and the people who killed him, the terrorists, were also Muslims. Although I don't think we're allowed to say things like that." The Prime Minister had once expressed annoyance because after September 11th people were using such phrases as "Islamic terrorism". Slate was puzzled by this, because nobody complained that use of the term "white racist", to describe the kind of thugs who had murdered Stephen Lawrence, was offensive to white people. 
"They're a sort of Muslim," Morris said. "A debased sort."
 "Let's not quibble over it," Slate sighed. "What I'm saying is that this is a Muslim affair. The terrorists are people who see themselves as good Muslims and will have blended into the Muslim community, naturally seeking their own kind.  Their fellow Muslims may not suspect they have any involvement in terrorism, any more than the rest of the population does. And they belong to a close-knit community which tends to discourage penetration by outsiders.  
 "They were probably local to the area since I don't believe they chased that poor bloke all the way across the country.  We therefore need to penetrate the local Muslim community, the centre of which is the mosque, see if we can mix with the people who knew the murdered man and find out whether they're hiding something."
 Thompson frowned. "You mean informers? That's a sensitive area, Guv. MI5 tried it and got nowhere, so they say. I don't see why we should have better luck."
 In the past the security services had succeeded in recruiting only one Muslim informer, who had managed for a time to infiltrate a suspected terrorist cell until his cover was blown. Worried by the likelihood, and the possible consequences, of an outbreak of Islamic terrorism they had become increasingly desperate in their efforts to recruit Muslim agents, leading to allegations of intimidation. "They don't like spying on each other. It's considered un-Islamic and immoral. We'd be stirring things up if we asked them to do it."
 "So they don't care if we get blown up because they won't do it?" snapped Morris.
 Slate could understand his anger. And it was for the Muslims' own sake, as much as anyone else's, that attitudes had to change. If they were worried about something happening which resulted in a violent backlash against them they must be prepared to make some sacrifices, in his opinion. "Things will be even worse for them," he said bluntly, "if a terrorist bomb kills lots of people and they get the blame for it."
 That, he knew, would be a pity. For despite his reservations about certain aspects of their culture, Slate liked Muslims. There was no doubt about it, they had something the West all too clearly didn't; a quality which was manifested in stronger family ties and closer community relations, along with a friendliness and courtesy that put some of their non-Muslim compatriots to shame.
 "Anyway, we want someone who can fit in there and who is prepared to do the job. It's the only way we're going to learn anything of value." How they were going to find someone who met the necessary requirements was something of a problem. MI5 had been handicapped in the matter by the fact that not many of their operatives could pass as Muslims, speak Arabic, or possessed any of the other essential qualifications. The police might be another matter.
 "Is there a Muslim officer who'd be prepared to do it?" asked the fourth member of Slate's team, DS Ross Kerr.
 "There are Muslim officers, certainly. Whether they'd be prepared to do it I'm not so sure. And I'm certainly not going to put pressure on them. I could go round all the forces in the country, of course."
 "There's one other consideration," Kerr said. "We have to be exactly sure about what we want this bloke, if he exists, to do."
 Slate nodded. "I've been thinking. We know very little about al-Qaeda's organisation in this country, or generally. How many cells there are out there, and where they're based.  What their overall plans are. I think I want to run this thing for as long as possible, see how much we can find out and what."
 "Wouldn't that be taking a bit of a risk, Guv?" Mike Thompson was clearly unhappy. "This bomb could be about to go off any day."
 "Obviously we'll call it all in and arrest them if there seems to be any indication an atrocity's imminent," Slate assured him.
 "I'm not sure we would find out anything," Kerr objected. "al-Qaeda is pretty compartmentalised. It's their way of avoiding a disaster that would unravel the whole network. One cell doesn't necessarily know what the others are doing."   
 Slate nodded to show that he knew what his subordinate was talking about. "Maybe. But I've a feeling that if we run this thing, instead of making the arrests as soon as we know we've got our men, we might get some interesting results." 
 Mike looked hard at him. "I just hope you're making the right decision, Guv."
Slate was conscious of them all looking at him. So do I, he thought.

In her cramped apartment in the house she shared with five other British women 22-year old Sarah Hitchcock from London put on her make-up, shouldered her bag with her "uniform" inside it, and trotted downstairs and out of the building on her way to begin her evening's work.
 The sun was setting behind the office blocks that dotted the Roppongi skyline. One by one the neon lights flickered on and the doors of the clubs were thrown open. Young men ran up and down the streets slapping pictures of nude or scantily-clad women on lamp posts, and thrusting glossy leaflets advertising sex at male passers-by.  
 Sarah strode down the street between the rows of tall buildings, each one bearing a neon strip sign proclaiming its name, in her high-heeled shoes. She radiated total self-possession, total self-confidence.
 The daughter of a company director, educated at private school and the University of London, Sarah had come to Japan primarily to earn enough money to pay for her postgraduate course in Business Admin. There were other ways she could have obtained the extra cash, but hostessing was the easiest.  Men would pay a lot for sex (in effect, that was what it amounted to),especially when they were prominent members of Japan's business elite, the sort who carried thousands of pounds around with them on a daily basis. Sarah had found herself doing so well that her original plans had changed somewhat; she had now been working at her club for a whole year, instead of the eight months she had originally foreseen.
 The routine was simple; move in on a customer and chat them up, prompting them whenever their glass needed refilling.  There were only two basic rules − keep talking and never tell customers you have a boyfriend. They must believe you were a possible catch for them, however unlikely.  
 Every night she patiently handled the same old questions about her personal life and what it was like to live in Britain, listening keenly and with apparent interest to badly-spoken English. It was all worth it. It could bring her an abundance of presents such as computers and mobile phones from infatuated customers, skiing trips to Hokkaido on a private plane and weekends at the beach resorts − and frequent marriage proposals, all of which she politely declined.  
 She strung each client along quite ruthlessly, feeding their desire for her, making them think she loved them and that he was the most desirable man she would ever meet, so that he would spend more on gifts and drinks. The more they got drunk, the longer they would stay.   
 Though there were some she genuinely felt sorry for, secretly she had only contempt for her clients, the more so because they must know it was all false. Some were married men who rather than develop their relationship with their wives expected them to stay at home and look after the house while they trawled the nightclubs for Western women. Others were repressed and childlike in their attitude towards the opposite sex, and she seriously doubted if they'd ever had a conventional, normal relationship. They regarded you as their girlfriend even though they were well aware you flirted with dozens of men just like them, as part of your job.  
 Within the bar itself, activities were confined to drinking and talking only, with maybe a karaoke session or two. But if things went well Sarah might end up spending the night with her man, at further expense on his part. Sometimes it was agreed in advance that a hostess would meet a customer for a meal and then go out with them. Such liaisons, whether or not pre-arranged, were called "dohans", and the more she went on the more money she earned. A dozen a month would net about £300. If she didn't get any, she would find herself out of a job.
 Occasionally some of the girls, herself included, would sleep with a customer while on a dohan, either at his house or at one of those hotels which were not too bothered about such activities taking place on their premises. He would have to pay the girl extra for the privilege, of course. It would add altogether about £2,000 to her earnings. She'd done it before and was prepared to do it again if the occasion arose, despite admitting privately that she wasn't particularly proud of it (it certainly wasn't something she'd tell her parents). Proposals of sex were frequent and if she liked the customer she might find herself accepting. If she didn't like him, she knew how to refuse. But she wasn't planning a dohan tonight, partly, perhaps, out of subconscious fear of the dangers and partly because she just didn't feel like it.
 Normally she was paid an average of £20.30 an hour for what she did. A certain percentage of her profits went to a madam, of course, but what remained was far more than she could ever have hoped for in the UK. She expected to return home with at least £10,000, after taking an extended holiday around Asia. 
 It was the money, plus the kick she got. This was how she wanted to be spending her young life. She didn't suppose she would keep it up forever; once she got too old for it, or thought she had enough money to put her life on a sound economic footing, she'd "retire" and get herself a conventional job back home, maybe start a family. Or she might go to Hawaii where she had fond memories of a particularly good dohan; the guy had been OK and they had kept in touch ever since, in fact she might even marry him...
 She was doing it illegally of course, like most of the other girls. She had obtained her visa in Thailand, pretending she was going to work as a singer and dancer and generally giving false information about her plans. The club had been recommended to her by friends as among the most reputable in the capital. She turned up to the interview smartly kitted out in the kind of clothes she'd be wearing for the job − high-heeled shoes and a short blue silk dress with a slit skirt, and was taken on almost immediately as a "communications representative"; the thought of the euphemism still made her laugh. 
 Whenever her visa expired she could usually obtain an extension; and after the additional three months were up it was simply a matter of leaving the country for a bit and hanging around somewhere else until she could re-enter it. 
 The police and politicians turned a blind eye to it all. As for her parents, they had grudgingly accepted what she did until the Blackman case made them fearful for her safety.  Afterwards, once they had seen she was determined to stick at it regardless of the dangers, their attitude had been one of weary resignation. 
 She always insisted they had nothing to worry about. As she saw it, she had gone into this with open eyes. It was a business where you had to use your head, and she liked to think she did. The game she was playing could be highly dangerous if played by a younger, less experienced girl. And she wasn't that.
Though anyone could make mistakes, she supposed.
 Undoubtedly there still remained hazards. For a while she had been seriously frightened by the behaviour of a client who had begun following her about, constantly calling her on her mobile, and even turning up in England when she went home for a week and insisting on seeing her. Eventually he had been barred from the club, but that didn't deter him from stalking her; fortunately he got tired and gave up after a while, but the business had left her shaken and disturbed, and led to her giving up work for a time. At least one other hostess, she knew, had had a similar experience. Crime was low in Japan, which was why the girls didn't take taxis to and from their apartments; apart from the expense, they were less likely on the whole to be attacked than in England. 
 If Sarah did go missing at least it would be reported to the police almost immediately, for the friends with whom she shared the house were also in the hostess business, and they all felt a strong sense of camaraderie towards each other.  But she knew of one girl whose fellow lodgers, both Japanese, saw very little of her, often being away on business, and who rarely phoned her parents. If anything happened to her no-one might know for days and when they did know it might be too late.
 Some of the customers were undoubtedly weird − obsessive.  People got nasty or were over-tactile, especially when they’d drunk too much. But she knew how to send out the kind of body language that would put them off. In any case the mamma san − the madam − could always call on the male staff of the club for assistance in the event of trouble.  
 When she went off on a dohan, she aimed to go with someone she felt she could trust. You could usually tell if a customer was dangerous.  
Usually. 
 And there were some who it might be particularly dangerous to refuse. The girls knew who the Yakuza were as soon as they came in, from their flashy suits and dark glasses. Some of the younger ones had their hair dyed orange and tattoos on their knuckles. The men glanced at them and quickly turned their heads away, avoiding eye contact, for these were people no-one wanted to be involved with. They virtually ran, or at any rate had interests in, the whole of the club scene, from the prostitution clubs where the Korean and Chinese girls worked to the upper-class hostess establishments employing mainly Westerners. They generally treated the girls considerately − it was in their interest to − but there were stories that occasionally they would lure a girl off on a dohan and use her as a sex slave, keeping her half-drugged until there was no further use for her. Whatever the truth of the matter, they were not people you messed with. Then of course there were the solitary lunatics like Joji Obara. 
 For a while Sarah herself been worried by the fate of Lucie Blackman. But after a brief break she had gone back to hostessing without reservation. After all, such incidents were rare on the whole. There was no more chance of them happening in Japan than they might anywhere else where hostessing went on − London, for example. There might even be less, because of the low crime rate. 
 Indeed, the danger was part of the thrill of it. Competition was high − the number of hostesses in Japan ran into hundreds − but the rewards were higher.
 Now trade was brisk again, and Lucie Blackman and the other girls who had disappeared were never mentioned. It was as if they had never existed.  
 Sarah came up to the open double doors of Knaves, as the club was known. Beside them a notice advised the public "young, international, beautiful English-speaking girls available." Inside the first thing that met her eye was a man clad from head to foot in black leather and dancing unsteadily, obviously drunk. His face was hidden by an outsize Zorro mask just like the one Joji Obara had worn in his videos. Briefly Sarah shuddered. Then she thought of Hawaii, and expensive presents, and her handsome young Japanese beau.
 The club was little more than a small, bare room with a juke box in one corner. Glancing briefly at the couple who sat not far from her, the girl cuddling against the man and giggling, she crossed to the changing room, little more than an over-large cupboard, where she donned her working clothes. Then she returned to the main room, where a cosmopolitan babble of voices filled the air, to join the punters.
 The men were all in their forties and dressed alike in smart dark grey suits, wallets crammed with credit cards peeping out of the breast pockets. Some were regular customers; she recognised Hiro Ishigura, the director of one of the country's leading electronics firms, enjoying a glass of wine with a buxom young Australian. No doubt he'd told his wife he was away on a business conference.
 Nearby one of Ishigura's friends was sitting flanked by two girls, a Russian and a Swede, and champagne corks were popping. At another table two Czechs, a German and a Norwegian were getting down to business; she knew their nationalities either from their accents or because she had worked the hostess circuit with them before.
 An English redhead stood with her arms folded near the entrance, her eyes trained on it, waiting for customers for come in and when they did inviting them to attend a "private dance" at the cost of £45. Sarah saw her greet one and lead him off by the hand.
 One man was sitting on his own, gazing vacantly round the room. Swiftly she got in there, dropping smartly into the chair beside his. "Hi!"
 He turned to her with a smile of pleasure, his eyes lighting up. "Hi," he replied, extending his hand. "I am Kenji Hukada." 
"I'm Sarah. Sarah Hitchcott." 
 They talked into the early hours of the morning. As time went by empty glasses were refilled, cigarettes lit and discarded, and charges were meticulously logged on a clipboard.   
 By one o'clock the other girls had gone, indeed the bar was more or less empty, but Hukada didn't seem ready to call it a night yet. Fine; it was his money.
 Sarah got up. "I'll get you another drink, shall I?" Hukada nodded briefly, and she crossed to the bar.
 He shifted so that his body was between the other clubbers and Sarah's glass of beer, preventing anyone from seeing what he was doing. Moving fast, he took a white plastic cylinder from his pocket, unscrewed the lid and held it over the glass. He shook out a couple of lozenge-shaped tablets.   
 Half an hour later Hukada came out of the side door with Sarah slumped against him, walking with unsteady, stumbling steps. He had one arm clasped tight around her waist, preventing her from falling. Her eyes were glazed and she was grinning vacuously.
 He smiled apologetically at two passers-by who stopped and stared at the sight. "I am afraid my friend has had too much to drink...no, don't worry, she'll be all right. I'm taking her home, she'll be fine there."
A few yards away, a car stood waiting for them.


NINETEEN
"Are you absolutely sure you're willing to do this?"  Inspector Slate looked hard at the man who sat opposite him, by way of making it quite clear he could back out of it any time he wanted. 
 With his European features, pale skin, blue eyes and hair of an almost Scandinavian fairness Detective-Sergeant Yusuf Ramasseh of Northwood Police did not look like one's traditional conception of a Muslim. Certainly you would not have said he was an Arab. Only if you peered at it very closely could you detect in his face a slight Middle Eastern cast. He could easily pass as a German, a Swede, a Finn, a Norwegian, or for that matter a fair number of Englishmen. 
 His Nordic looks might have been considered a drawback in the kind of operation Slate had in mind, but they weren't really. There were Muslims who looked like Ramasseh, for acceptance into the Islamic faith was not, generally speaking, dependent on physical characteristics. In that respect it was a tolerant religion. There might be some initial surprise at his appearance and background but after that he would have no problems.  
 Having some knowledge of history, Slate could guess where his blondness had come from, though there were other possible explanations for it. Over the hundreds of years during which Islam and the West had been at war, prisoners had from time to time been taken by both sides − during the Crusades, the Muslim invasion of Europe in the eighth century, or the raids by Barbary corsairs − either as part of military operations or because they would fetch a handsome sum of money as slaves. It was possible the majority of the Western captives had never found their way back to their homelands. Amongst them would have been people with fair hair and blue eyes. Naturally seeking to get by as best they could, they often sought to buy their freedom by converting to Islam, in many cases marrying Muslims and in due course producing children. In this way their genes had entered the general population. 
 Since they were a small minority of that population, and the characteristics in question were recessive, the latter in time became helplessly diluted. Though they did exist, because genes as was well known did not always behave the way they were expected to, Muslims as fair as Ramasseh were rare. The adoption by their slave forebears of Muslim names further hid the possibility that their distant ancestors had been Vikings, who had themselves roamed the northern seas in search of slaves and other booty.
 At Slate's question Ramasseh looked doubtful for a moment, then nodded. "Sure?" Slate persisted.
 "I guess I'm the best one for the job," Ramasseh replied.  He said it without conceit − or for that matter a great deal of enthusiasm.
"I'll say again, you don't have to." 
"Someone's got to, Sir." 
 "They have," Slate said. "There may not be long before the bombs start going off. We're going to have to move fast. Now I gather you understand the difficulties, the dangers, involved in this?"
 "Of course, Sir." Ramasseh sounded curt. "I've done this sort of job before − a particularly nasty gang of armed robbers. That wasn't half as difficult as this one's going to be, though."
 "But you do have one or two advantages that I, for example, do not. Principally, you were brought up a Muslim."
 "I was born in Morocco. My parents emigrated here in the seventies." Ramasseh spoke with an almost perfect Home Counties accent. "Because I look like this..." He passed a hand through his yellow hair, a little ruefully. "I found I was accepted here, even though I could hardly speak a word of English and was an Arab through and through in my way of life. It was the same for my father − it's him I take after.  My mother and sister were rather less fortunate. My sister got all sorts of stick at school."
"I'm sorry," said Slate sincerely.
 Ramasseh gave a hollow laugh. "You should have seen the bullies' faces when I came along and told them not to pick on her or else."
 He was stockily built and well equipped to fight if he chose to do so, Slate guessed. "They couldn't believe it when I said I was her brother."
 "I don't think I would have," Slate grinned.  "Anyhow...you're not a Muslim now?"
 "I haven't been one for years. Our parents died when we were small and we were adopted by an aunt and uncle who treated us pretty well but weren't really devout Muslims. That's how I drifted away from it.  
 "I think it was because I was accepted by Westerners while other Muslims weren't that I became attracted to them. A part of me appreciated it, another didn't. I was confused, and I became interested in Western society because I felt I needed to find out what made it tick. 
 "I decided that in some ways it was the West that was misunderstood, and that was part of the problem. I guessed Westerners couldn't be much worse than anybody else. Though I still haven't been able to work out why people were so racist. But some things I can understand, now. We're not a bad lot, we're just a more complicated society with a different way of looking at things."
 As Ramasseh had grown more knowledgeable about the West he found its complexity fascinated him. By contrast, it was the simplicity of Islam that appealed to its followers. "I could understand that, but it wasn't quite enough for me; I needed something more. Something was pulling me away from Islam, even though the way my Mum and Sis had been treated should have made me more inclined to stay with it."
 He looked a little hard at Slate. "That's not to say there's anything wrong with Muslims. A lot of people still don't understand them. They're nowhere near as brutal and backward as people think."  
 To the DI he sounded pained. "I'm sure you're right," Slate agreed, nodding vigorously.
 "Well," he began. "I suppose it all means you can move freely within both camps." 
"That's right. The way I look won't be a problem." 
"How exactly are you going to go about the job?" 
 "It'll need a lot of thought." Ramasseh explained what he had in mind. 
 They went on to discuss the operation in detail. "I guess that's about all I need to say," Slate smiled when he had finished. They both rose from their chairs. 
 "Well...good luck, Sergeant." Slate shook Ramasseh's hand firmly; there was something about the man he found very likeable. "I guess you need it."
"Thankyou, Sir."  
 Slate showed him out. After he had gone, the Inspector went to the window and stood gazing down into the street, at the public going about their daily business. He remained there for some time, lost in deep thought. The English people. Ever since September 11th they had sensed there was a time-bomb ticking away among them. Now the threat had once again become a reality, but they could not be allowed to know it, for fear of the reaction. The government had ordered a total news blackout on the Khambatti affair.
 When would the attack come? Because you didn't know you couldn't prepare for it. It would strike suddenly, horrifyingly. Would there be mass panic? And what effect would there be on ordinary life in the long run? 
 He found himself looking at each of the people in the street and thinking. The little girl playing in the front garden of her house; in a few weeks, days, maybe even hours, would she be dead? Or that little boy over there with his mother? The woman with her shopping? The pretty girl? The policeman on his beat? When exactly would their time come? And how would their loved ones cope with their loss?
 He really didn't want the responsibility for this. Normally it would be down to the "spooks" − in essence, MI5. But the only candidate for the job had been a policeman and so it was a police operation.
 It all depended on Ramasseh. It was vital, absolutely vital −from the point of view of Slate's career, along with everything else − that he didn't put a foot wrong.  

Mary Jean Patterson's folks had been a little unsure about the venture she was embarking on, as well as saddened by the thought that she would be absent from their lives, apart from a trip home every now and then, for the foreseeable future. Mary Jean was sad too, but knew she was making the right decision; this was her only chance of a new start in life, and she felt sure everything would turn out OK in the end.  When it did they would be proud of her. As she boarded her flight she was about as happy as anyone possibly could be on this earth. 
 She was greeted at Tokyo International airport by the company's Japanese agent; like all the rest of them, a really nice guy. After she had handed over her passport he drove her straight to the hotel where the troupe would be staying while on the Japanese leg of the tour. The place was a bit drab, but OK nonetheless. She proceeded to unpack her belongings.  
 She met the other girls, who seemed nice enough although she didn't have much time to talk to them before they all piled into a bus which drove them to the club, located deep in the back streets of Kyoto. It looked like they were getting down to work straight away. Like the hotel the place was a little dingy, but Mary Jean wasn't bothered as long as she stood to earn good money. 
 The bus drew up outside the entrance to the club, and one by one they disembarked, Mary Jean's eyes shining with keen anticipation. The other girls seemed less excited, but then they'd already been doing it for some time; she guessed it was just another outing for them. They didn't make a lot of conversation, either with her or each other, which pissed her off a bit; but again, as long as she was making a career for herself out of this she knew she could stand it.   
 Once they were inside the hotel the agent withdrew, and left them in the charge of another Japanese who ushered them towards a door which Mary Jean presumed led to a changing room. They filed through it.
 It was, indeed, a changing room, divided effectively into three compartments by wooden partitions with pegs on them at intervals and benches running along them at knee-height.  Mary Jane headed for one of these cubicles, then stopped halfway there, frowning. 
 She saw to her astonishment that her fellow performers were undressing. Not just stripping down to bra and panties, but undressing. Everything was coming off, leaving the girls butt naked.  
 She looked up, and saw that there was nothing hanging on her peg. "Where's my costume?" she asked loudly, addressing no-one in particular. "I don't have a costume."
 Another girl seemed to be in the same situation, for she was looking round in a puzzled, uneasy way. Seeing that Mary Jean was in the same plight, she went over to stand with her, seeking comfort in solidarity.
 Mary Jean raised her voice angrily. "Hey, has anyone here got ears? I said I don't have a costume."
"You won't be needing one," said the girl on her left, grimly.  
Mary Jean gave a start. 
 "Do you mean..." A certain chill was creeping slowly through her.  
Their eyes met.  
 She realised that a man had come in and was standing among them unembarrassed by their nudity. He was looking hard at Mary Jean. "Take your clothes off," he ordered her.
She stared at him, still not quite believing what was happening. "I'm sorry?"
 She went suddenly as cold as ice. This wasn't what she had signed up for.
What the hell was going on?
 Mary Jean was now angry, upset and frightened in equal measure. What would they be asking her to do next?  
She had to get out.
"Take your clothes off," the man repeated, more harshly this time.
She stepped back a couple of paces, still gaping at him in astonishment.
 "Did you hear me?  I said − " He broke off as she marched determinedly towards the door, her face tight with sudden rage. He made a grab for her, but she managed to dodge round him and run to the door, flinging it open. She dashed out into the hall.
 She hadn't got far before he caught her again, swinging her round and forcing her back against the wall with his hands gripping her shoulders painfully. "Get back in there and take your clothes off," he hissed.
 "I didn't know I was going to have to do this," she protested.
 "Well, now you have no choice." He smiled at her in a way which froze her blood. "You should have been a little cleverer."


TWENTY
Christopher Mark Barrett sauntered into the staff common room at IPL Hong Kong, whistling cheerfully. He was a muscular young man with dark good looks and a pleasant, vaguely handsome face.  
 He found an unoccupied chair and sat down, idly scratching his nose and from time to time glancing across at Caroline Kent who was flicking casually through the pages of a women's magazine.  
 The two of them had known each other, worked together, for some years. Because she was his superior, their relations with each other hadn't developed beyond a strong, if often stormy, friendship. Anything too intimate would have given him an unfair advantage in the arena of office politics, and neither of them thought that was right. They had slept together once, in a hotel room (why is it always a hotel room? he wondered vaguely) but nothing had come of it. By mutual agreement they did not talk about the episode.  
 It had, to be honest, been a bit of a disappointment, probably because they knew at heart they were not meant to be anything more than good friends, and that feeling that it was inappropriate had prevented them from enjoying the experience. The relationship they did have, he found, could be just as enriching if not more so.  
 It was hard to say why you liked Caroline − some people most certainly didn't, although personally he thought they were being unfair. In his case it might have something to do with the way she had covered for him when he failed to complete a vital report in time for an important directors' meeting, due to having drunk too much one night and not come in until lunchtime the day after. Caroline, who had delegated the task to him with the full knowledge of top management, got him out of a very sticky situation by pretending that she had decided at the last moment to complete it herself but forgotten to do so. For her it was taking quite a risk, since she had plenty of enemies at the company who could make much of the business. She often got a rocket from their boss, Marcus Hennig, when her bright ideas didn't work out quite as planned. "I'll take the stick," she’d sighed when he apologetically explained what had happened and the difficult situation he now found himself in. "You don't have to," he protested, while hoping guiltily that she would.  
 For some time afterwards she continued to eye him disgustedly, telling him at length what an inconvenience the whole thing was to her, until he was heartily sick of it.  But she had done it. And by his reckoning, if she had been that much of a bitch she wouldn't have. 
 He knew of her connections with MI6, which he had sworn fiercely to keep a secret. She had joined the Service for reasons of her own, promptly resigning once they no longer applied. But she continued to do jobs for them from time to time, for one reason or another. He suspected that he didn't know the half of what she got up to.  
 He thought back to a conversation the two of them had had a couple of days before. He had had the afternoon off and had gone to sit by the swimming pool with a drink, not having been able to think of anything else to do. He plonked himself into one of the chairs by the pool, a few feet from where Caroline lay sunbathing. "Wotcher, Caz." 
"Wotcher, Mr B," she replied. 
"Not much on today then?"
 Caroline glanced down at her bikini-clad body. "It seems not." She shot him a mildly reproving look. "Saucy."
 "No, I mean you're not doing very much at the moment.  Workwise, that is."
"One of the perks of the job," she said huffily.
 "So are you, Caroline," he replied, not without genuine affection. 
"Thankyou, Chris."
 They indulged in small talk for a while; then he turned to her suddenly, his manner serious. "Tell me honestly," he asked. "What have you been up to?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, looking angelic and innocent.
 "Disappearing off somewhere every evening and not coming back till about three in the morning. Every night for the past week. We've barely seen you at the plant."
"I've been out on the town," she told him.
 "Ah, I see. And you didn't fancy our company?" To be honest he was feeling a little hurt. 
 "I've been with friends," she said. "Girls' talk...you know."
 Chris' eyebrows lifted a little. Caroline had a multitude of contacts around the world, he knew that, but this was the first time he'd heard of a friend in Hong Kong, which puzzled him. He'd surely have known about it if there had been.
 "Why not invite them back to the company for a drink in the bar? I'm sure we'd all like to meet them."
"Oh, it's not really their scene," she'd said vaguely. 
 Caroline's behaviour was often inexplicable, but in this case he had the particularly strong impression she was up to something and didn't want him to know what it was. He continued to sit there mulling it over. Once she happened to look up from her magazine and catch his eye, smiling briefly. 
 The colleague seated next to him put down the paper he was reading, and Chris reached over and picked it up. What horrors are taking place in this sad world today, he thought morbidly. 
 As it happened, the front page was mostly taken up with a piece of good news − the discovery of the missing girls in Hong Kong. It stated that an anonymous caller had informed the police they were at the Jade Monkey and a surprise raid had been launched on the club. 
 "Good, this, isn't it?" he observed, addressing Caroline and indicating the paper.  
"Wonderful," she agreed.  
 He put the paper away after a while, his face deeply thoughtful.  
 That night, he noted, Caroline went back to the compound after work, instead of immersing herself in the Hong Kong nightlife as had been her norm the past week.  
 Once or twice that day he'd caught her looking very self-satisfied. Not that there was anything unusual in that.  
 He pondered the matter for a little longer, then finally shrugged helplessly and lifted himself to his feet. He had work to do.

"I want to find out exactly what happened," said Win Lai, leaning back in his leather-padded chair and fixing his eyes intently on the men assembled before him. "Did anyone inform the police?"
 One of the Triads spoke. "A couple of people say they saw the English woman talking to Ho after all the others had been taken away. They then got into his car and drove off. They were only seen for a moment but it did not look as if she was being arrested."  
 Win Lai's face tightened. He steepled his fingers and brooded for a moment, his furrowed brow dark with anger. He reached for the phone, dialled a number and waited.  
"Hello, Dai Chan," said the person at the other end.
 "This is Win Lai. About what happened at the Jade Monkey last night; I want to know how they found out. Is there anything you can tell me?" He set out his suspicions.   
 "There was a girl who came to Police Headquarters about a week ago and was directed to Ho. Can you describe her to me?"
 "Tall and blonde. She walks like an empress. Her eyes are like the sky in summer. That is all I can say." Otherwise Win Lai found he could not describe Caroline Kent's physical appearance in detail, though he had seen her on quite a few occasions; Westerners all looked much the same to him.
 "I am not sure, but it could well have been her," Dai Chan said. "There are not many such people in Hong Kong."
 And Tsien Ho was known to have expressed a keen interest in smashing the white slave business. Win Lai's eyes gleamed, and he felt his pulse quicken. He reckoned it couldn't be a coincidence. "And you were not alarmed by her visit?" 
 "At the time, no. I'd no way of knowing who she was, what she was up to. Ho said nothing to anyone. If I had been to the club I might have recognised her, but employees of the police force are not supposed to frequent such places."
 "Of course," said Win Lai impatiently. "Is there anything more you can tell me?"
"No. She has not been back here."
 "I see. Well, you have been very helpful, Dai Chan. Please continue to be vigilant. I will see you are well rewarded for your trouble." With that he terminated the call.
 He looked up at his henchmen. "It seems this girl won H'Sien Choi's confidence, then told the police about the kidnapped women. We must find out who she is and who she works for."
 "I have heard she works for an international oil company," someone told him. "What she is doing helping Ho I have no idea. Maybe she is an undercover police officer?"
 "It matters little what she is," Win Lai said. Again his piercing gaze swept over them. "We must move fast, in case she is intending to leave Hong Kong soon. I want you all to make some enquiries, find out exactly who she is and what her plans are."   
 Nodding obediently, the men filed from the room. As he watched them leave Win Lai, brother and protege of H'Sien Choi, contemplated with savage relish what he might do to Miss Caroline Kent once she was within his power. She wouldn't look so pretty once she'd been turned into fish feed.

TWENTY-ONE
Situated down a little lane from the main road, the mosque was identifiable from some way off with its huge dome and the tall tower of the minaret beside it, from which the muezzin called the faithful to prayer each morning with the aid of a loudspeaker, his voice ringing out over the rooftops and disturbing grumbling infidels from their slumber.
 As Ramasseh drew closer to the building his sick feeling of apprehension grew stronger. He was about to re-enter a culture from which he had been estranged for so long that it was now completely alien to him, a strange and confusing mass of rules and regulations. Somewhere he no longer felt he belonged. He'd been practising all the rituals, of course, and finding out as much as he possibly could from books in his local library.  
 The mosque was open to all, its door standing open invitingly. It made him feel reassured. There were people standing around talking on the forecourt of the building and within the entrances; this free and easy sociability was a practice initiated by the Prophet himself, who did not believe religious life and normal daily activities should be separate. Overall, the impression he got was of a bustling, lively, friendly community.  
 He went in through the men's entrance, noting the box which had been fixed to the wall just inside the door for the giving of alms. He found himself in the corridor which led on the left to the washrooms and on the right to the main prayer hall. Remembering what to do, he took off his shoes and placed them on the rack provided, before making in search of the washrooms. There he performed the ritual known as wudu.  He washed his hands three times, his feet (in the bowl provided for the purpose) three times, his arms up to the elbows three times, his face three times. He rinsed out his mouth three times. He snuffed water into his nostrils and blew out − three times. He passed his wet hands over the top of his head and round the back of his neck, wiping out his ears with his index finger and the back of his neck with his thumbs.  
 His ablutions completed, he went back down the passage to the prayer hall. A little hesitantly he ventured inside, and immediately stopped dead as he was filled with a sense of awe; with breathtaking wonder. The place was huge, the impression of spaciousness enhanced by the lack of chairs or other furniture. Looking up into the roof, it occurred to him that the vast space within the dome, and within the hall itself, was meant to represent the Universe, dominated by the oneness of Allah. It also helped the voice of the imam to be heard clearly when delivering his sermons.
 His eyes travelled round the room, taking in the marble columns, the decorative tiles inscribed with beautiful Islamic calligraphy that covered the walls, the crystal chandeliers and the stained glass windows, and as they did so he felt a growing sense of loss, of regret at all he had been missing the last few years of his life.
 There were no pictures or statues anywhere, it being forbidden in Islam to make images of God or spiritual beings because such was considered offensive to them. This was the one thing, Ramasseh decided, which detracted from his surroundings, making them feel dead and impersonal, cold somehow. Yet the Muslims themselves didn't seem to mind.
 The place was cool, airy and well-lit. The entire floor was covered by a carpet on which lines had been drawn to help the believers sit or kneel in neat rows, sometimes on little individual prayer mats, facing he knew towards Mecca. In the wall before them was a shell-shaped niche decorated with texts from the Koran.
 Opposite it, beside the door where Ramasseh had come in, was the pulpit from which the imam gave his sermons, situated at the top of a short flight of steps.
 Like everyone else he moved about in a quiet, respectful manner. He found a spare mat and, shutting out the world and concentrating only on what he was doing, stood to attention on it, his hands raised level with his shoulders. 
"Allahu Akbar," he said to himself. God is great.
 He placed his left hand on his chest and then his right hand over it. "Glory and praise to Thee, O God; blessed is Thy name and exalted is Thy majesty. There is no God other than thee. I come, seeking shelter from Satan, the rejected one." Once or twice he faltered, cursing himself silently and hoping to God – Allah – that no-one had noticed. There must be nothing whatever to suggest he wasn't a fully fledged Muslim, schooled from birth in the articles of the faith.
 Next he recited Fatihah, the first verse of the Koran. "In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. All praise be to Allah, the Lord of all the worlds, the Most Merciful, the Most Kind, Master of the Day of Judgement. You alone do we worship, From you alone do we seek help. Show us the straight path of those earning Your favour. Keep us from the path of those earning Your anger, those who are going astray."
 He knelt down with his hands on his knees and bowed, repeating three times "Glory be to my Great Lord, and praise be to Him."
 Then he stood up again, saying "God always hears those who praise Him. O God all praise be to Thee, O God greater than all else."
 He went down on his knees again, this time touching the ground with forehead, nose, palms of both hands, knees and toes and saying three times: "Glory be to my Lord, the Most High. God is greater than all else." After a moment's rest he repeated the movements thrice, on each occasion saying simply "O my Master, forgive me." Finally he turned his head to right and left to acknowledge the other worshippers and their guardian angels, uttering the words "Peace be with you, and the mercy of Allah."
 I guess that was about right, he thought, straightening up a little painfully. Now as long as someone would notice him. 
 He hovered indecisively for a moment, then started towards the door. As he did so he felt someone touch him lightly on the shoulder, and turned.  
 A man was standing there. "I have not seen you here before. Are you new to the area?" 
Ramasseh nodded.
"You will be most welcome here. I am Ali Khatadi. And you are...?"
"I'm Yusuf Ramasseh."
 "Come back to my house with me. I would like you to meet my family."
 "That's very kind of you. Yes, alright then." They went off together.
 He was certainly being made welcome. God, how it hurt him to deceive these people.  
 But it had to be done. So far so good, he thought ruthlessly. So far. The next bit would be the hardest. 
 But as they went out to Ali's car, nodding and smiling at their fellow worshippers, Ramasseh felt his spirits rise a little. He was almost beginning to like this.

When Mary Jean Patterson realised where she stood, she decided she'd better do what she was told for the time being.  And so she followed the other girls through a further door into a small auditorium where a dozen Japanese men occupied the first of several rows of seats.  As the girls mounted the stage their heads jerked up like those of dogs catching a scent, and as one they all leaned forward to stare fixedly at the parade of naked beauties before them.
"Dance," rapped the minder. Pounding music started up.
 For ten minutes or so the girls cavorted naked, all the time feeling the eyes of the men range over their bodies, mentally violating them. One or two managed to look as if they were enjoying it, the others' expressions were mostly solemn.  Mary Jean tried hard to hide the shame and embarrassment she felt; she wasn't making a very good job of it, but the customers didn't seem to mind. Nor were they unduly concerned when the other rookie, the little girl, who like her had been utterly shocked by what she found herself forced to do, and broke down in tears and staggered off the stage only to be seized by the minder and shoved back on.  
 Suddenly, overcome with lust, the men leaped from their seats and began scrambling onto the stage, at the same time ripping off their jackets. The girls stopped dancing and started screaming as the clients began groping them and mashing their breasts and buttocks. Everything dissolved into chaos. The girls ran off, the men chasing after them whooping in excitement, and hid in the changing room or anywhere else that seemed to offer some prospect of concealment. Some managed to stay hidden until the minder eventually came to round everyone up. Others were not so lucky.
 For an hour or so Mary Jean crouched down among the contents of a tiny store cupboard, trembling from shock, fear and anger. When the minder finally tracked her down and the door of the cupboard was flung open she went into screaming hysterics and had to be dragged back to the changing rooms to dress, beating and clawing at the arm which held her in its iron grip. Underneath it all she still felt a certain astonished disbelief.
 Afterwards the coach took them back to the hotel − which she soon saw wasn't really that − where they were left to their own devices for a while. She tried to talk to the other girls about what had happened but at most they merely shrugged and told her she should have known what she was letting herself in for. The minders, and the staff at the "hotel", were similarly indifferent.
 That night after supper Mary Jean went to her room, threw herself down on the bed and cried for hours before emotional exhaustion sent her to sleep. There was nothing else to do, anyway.  
 Between engagements the girls were left very much to their own devices. Mary Jean had received a special allowance on arriving in Japan; it wasn't much, only a couple of hundred pounds, but she'd been told her salary would increase with time, as she earned more money. But it was certainly enough to buy her a railway ticket to and from Tokyo; and so the following morning after breakfast she slipped away and caught the bullet train to the capital. She somehow knew it was unwise to tell the other girls what she planned to do, and doubted she'd get much help from them anyway.
 It took her some time to find the bus station because she was unfamiliar with the layout of the city and had no knowledge of Japanese; she had to stop and ask about a dozen people before eventually finding someone who spoke English and could tell her how to get there. The man went with her to the station to help her buy her ticket. Feeling buoyed up by his kindness, she was in a much better mood as she climbed onto the bus and found herself a seat.
 An hour later she arrived at the company's offices and demanded to see her Japanese agent. He looked up at her with a watery smile as she entered his office.
 When she told him what had happened, he merely grinned. "They do that sometimes," he said baldly. 
 Mary Jean stiffened, staring at him in astonishment. "Is that all you can say? And they forced me to dance naked.  That wasn't in the contract."
 He shrugged. "If you don't like being a dancer, try hostessing. We have plenty of vacancies there."
"Hostessing?"
 He explained what it involved. "I don't know," she said uncertainly. "It's not really my kind of thing. And surely I'd have to change my contract?"
"Never mind the contract," he said simply.
"But I signed..."
 He brushed the protest aside. "If you sleep with a man, you will make much more money."
 She didn't know whether she was interested in the money any more, and said so.  
"You not want to make more money?"
You'd take most of it, she thought.  
 "You're talking about prostitution," she said. "I didn't sign up for that either."
 He rose from his chair and came slowly towards her. When he spoke his voice was harsh and frightening. "You will do what we tell you or you will regret it. Understand?"
 Mary Jean stood her ground. "I want my passport back, and my return ticket."    
 She knew she was being pretty naive to think they'd give it to her just like that, and they didn't. "Your passport is safer with us," the agent told her.
 "But what you're doing to us is wrong." She still hadn't fully absorbed the events of the previous day. "I want out. I want to go home."
 "Then go home," he said, his head dipping back towards his work.
 Mary Jean needed no prompting. She knew now just what it was she'd got herself into. 
 As she hurried from the room the agent put down his pen and glanced briefly after her, smiling in sardonic amusement.

Hong Kong  
It was almost time for evening meal, and raven-haired Helen, 22, from Birmingham, who had just returned to the hostel from a tour of the island, was sitting on one of the padded leather benches at the sides of the foyer with her travel bag at her feet, enjoying a well-earned rest while she waited to go in. There were a number of other tourists, mostly young Westerners like herself, sitting or standing nearby, filling the air with their friendly chatter. 
 Following her graduation Helen was "taking a year off" before returning to Britain to look for work. Her parents were both teachers and she hailed from an affluent suburb on the outskirts of Brum. She was short and a little plump, but in a way men tended to find attractive, with a pretty, piquant face and hazel eyes.
 She heard footsteps ring out on the parquet floor as someone approached her, and glanced up to see a young Chinese man, smiling affably. "Excuse me. I am Mr Chan. You like earn much money?" 
 "Wouldn't we all," smiled back Helen. She would have turned away at that point but hesitated, not wishing to seem rude in a culture which set much store by politeness.  
 "We are looking for English girls, young English girls, to be models and actresses for a few days. There may also be some escort work. How would you like to earn some extra cash?"
"What do you mean by escort work?" she asked. 
 Mr Chan explained it to her. It seemed she just had to sit and drink with the clients, making pleasant conversation into the early hours. Helen considered; she was intrigued by the offer, and flattered that these people should consider her attractive. She could do with the money when she got back home. And yet it all sounded a little bit...
 There seemed nothing unsettling about Mr Chan himself. He couldn't have been more pleasant, she thought. He hovered beside her while she tried to come to a decision. 
"Um − no," she said on impulse.   
"Are you sure?" asked the Chinaman gently.
Helen frowned. "I don't know..." 
 "Why don't you come along just for one evening, to see what it is like? We pay you 1000 Hong Kong dollars."
 It seemed a reasonable request. She'd heard rumours about this kind of thing and what it was a front for, but maybe in this case they were totally unfounded. And it could be a lot of fun. The idea of being a star, albeit not in her own country, appealed to her. 
"OK, I'll give it a try," Helen smiled.
 "That's great. Here is my card." Handing it to her he took his leave with a gracious inclination of his head.  
 The following evening she turned up at the club whose name was on the card. Passing through the glass double doors, she stood blinking in the dim light for a moment, uncertainly. Then she saw Mr Chan coming towards her. He greeted her with the same charming smile he had used the night before. 
 He showed her to a table where a plump middle-aged man in a business suit sat waiting. Chan introduced Helen and the client, whose name was Mr Lee, to one another, and they shook hands. 
 Seating herself opposite Lee, Helen found a glass of wine had already been poured for her. A little nervously she sipped at it. With a nod and a smile Mr Chan left them to get to know each other. Desultorily they made small talk for a while. Gradually the drink calmed Helen's nerves and the conversation began to flow more freely.
 A waiter came to take their orders, and a few minutes later they were tucking in. Helen enjoyed the meal, and Mr Lee seemed nice enough. It was interesting to learn a bit about life in Hong Kong, and to be in the position of educating Mr Lee about her own country, acting as an ambassador for it, gave her a sort of buzz. She might not have felt so relaxed if she had been aware of Mr Chan sitting a few tables away, scrutinising them keenly as they talked. 
 Lee seemed to be enjoying her company, which pleased her. This wasn't so bad, she found herself thinking. Perhaps she could even make a career out of it.  
 The evening wore on. They were just finishing off the last of their drinks when Mr Lee turned to her and winked, flashing her a crafty smile. "You sleep with me, yes?"
Helen went suddenly cold. 
 It took a moment for the proposition to fully register. A sick feeling of unease welled up in her craw.
 Her voice quavering a little, she tried to brazen it out, smiling feebly. "That wasn't in the deal. Sorry."
 The man looked the picture of disappointment. It was obvious that he had been expecting to have intercourse with her.  Briefly anger flashed in his eyes.  
 "I can sit and talk to you if you like but I'm not going to bed with you," said Helen firmly. "No way. I'm just not that type, you understand?"
 Mr Lee no longer seemed interested in talking to her. He began shouting and gesticulating fiercely. Helen stood up, turned on her heels and marched straight for the door. If on he way to it she happened to see Mr Chan she'd have a few words with him.  
 Chan and another man, an Indian by the look of him, who had been sitting with him got up from their chairs and moved to intercept her, blocking her way to the door. "What is wrong?" asked Chan. His tone was polite but there was an edge of steel to it which hadn't been there last night.  
 Helen gestured curtly at Mr Lee. "He asked if I'd sleep with him. You promised me I'd just be talking to them and that was it. What's going on?"  
 Chang's laugh sent a shiver right down her spine. "You think that all?"
 "I'm going," she announced. She was about to tell them she was going to report the matter to the police, but somehow thought better of it.  
 "You will earn much money," repeated Chan. By now she was sick and tired of those words.
 She tried to sidle round him but he barred her way again.  "You stay. You promise to work for us. You not leave now."
 "You can't keep me here. And I didn't promise anything. You brought me here on false pretences."
 He continued as if she hadn't spoken, speaking in a calmer tone. "You make good money. It will be worth it. Just do as we say, Helen, then you will come to no harm. It is just for a few days, maybe a week."
 Again Helen's resolution wavered. Could they be telling the truth? Would it be harmless, even enjoyable, provided she just did what they wanted? She bit her lip indecisively. 
 But the atmosphere in the club had changed suddenly, was all wrong. And their manner for a moment or two had been threatening.
 Chan became impatient. "You stay or something very bad will happen to you. It is not wise to refuse us."  
 The Indian joined in. "We know where to find you. You do as you are told or you will regret it." 
 That did it. "Leave me alone!" she shouted, as loud as she could. "I'll do what I like, alright?" Again she made for the door.
 Deciding he didn't want a scene, Chan stepped aside. Helen strode across the room and out of the building, trembling from fear and rage. Her mind was filled with a fierce resolve to catch the next plane back home. She'd spent quite enough time in Hong Kong, thankyou very much. 
 Slowly Chan sat down again, his face hard. For a moment he glowered after the disappearing Helen, then with a mental shrug put the matter behind him. Yes, it was a setback. But as always, there would be others.  

Caroline marched briskly across the foyer of the main administration block at IPL towards the sliding doors, to be stopped by the smiling, smartly-suited Chinaman who had been standing by the reception desk. "Ah, Miss Kent." He gestured through the doors at the gleaming black Rolls which stood waiting on the forecourt. "This car has been ordered for you. I am your chauffeur. Please come this way." 
 "Thanks." Returning his smile, she followed him to the vehicle. 
 A couple of minutes later it came through the gates onto the main road. As it drove on a woman coming along the road towards the IPL complex glanced in its direction. On seeing who was inside, she stopped. Pursing her lips slightly, she turned and began walking back the way she had come.  
 "The main road to the airport is blocked," the chauffeur was telling Caroline. "We will have to take a different route."
"What's happened?" she enquired.
"There has been an accident."
 "Oh dear," she said. "Is anyone hurt?" The driver said he didn't know.
She sat back, folding her arms.  
 A few minutes later they were in the city. From time to time she glanced through the window at her surroundings, her keen brain noting all she saw with interest.
 She frowned. Their route seemed to be taking them through narrow, dingy back streets, well away from the city centre.  Her heart gave a leap. 
 Surely they didn't have to go this far out of their way.  There were other routes the driver could have chosen.
 It started to fall into place. She remembered the words T'sien Ho had spoken to her just before they had said goodbye. "They are dangerous people, and very powerful. They have ways of getting to you."
Was she just being too edgy?  
There was only one way to find out.
 "I'm sorry, but I've left something back at the refinery," she told the driver. "Do you think we could go back and fetch it?"
Once there, she would be safe. 
 For a moment or two the driver said nothing, and that hesitation told her all she needed to know.  
Then he spoke. "You are going nowhere except where we wish."
 She unfastened her seatbelt and launched herself at the door, fumbling with the handle. It was taking a risk but it was better than what might await her at the hands of the Triads.  
 The driver trod hard on the brakes and the car screeched to a halt. Unsecured, she was flung violently forward, her face connecting sharply with the headrest of the front passenger seat, and then back. Briefly she was stunned but then the adrenalin kicked in and she sprang into action, opening the door and jumping out.  
 She ran off into the labyrinth of streets around her, sometimes managing to dodge the pedestrians and sometimes knocking roughly into them. A man on a bicycle swerved to avoid hitting her and went over. Angrily someone grabbed her by the arm but she broke free and sprinted on.
 Back at the car, the chauffeur was speaking urgently into his mobile phone.    
 Caroline ran down one street after another until she was too tired to go any further, staggering to a breathless panting halt. She bent over, resting her hands on her knees, and waited for her wind to come back.
 Eventually she straightened up and looked around. She had absolutely no idea where she was. She must find a taxi and get to Police Headquarters as soon as possible. Or would it be safer to try and reach it on foot? How could she be sure the cab driver wasn't in the pay of the Triads? 
 They'd all be out looking for her. And as a foreigner, a foreigner with her looks, she would be highly conspicious.
 She heard shouting and running footsteps, and turned to see four or five Chinese men coming towards her. One had his hand in his pocket, as if about to draw a gun. She spun round and ran off. Her only hope was to lose them in the maze of little streets, no more than alleyways really, which riddled this part of the city.
 She reached the end of the street, at a point where it met with another to form a T-junction, and ran off to the left just as the Chinaman aimed his gun at her fleeing back and fired. The bullet missed her by a fraction.  
 By the time her pursuers were in the alleyway she had turned into another. Each time she came to a junction she took a different direction. But before long they would realise what she was trying to do, split up and adopt the same tactic as she, maximising their chances of catching her. 
 It was getting dark now. She was running through a forest of garish neon-signs, every few minutes passing grotesquely deformed beggars crouching in doorways, some of whom shot out their gnarled, twisted arms to grab her, whether in appeal or to hinder her escape her feverish mind couldn't tell.
 The walls on each side were little more than a few feet apart. She felt she was being hemmed in, crushed. The flashing signs dazzled and disorientated her; they seemed to rotate before her very eyes, merging into a single crazily spinning blur. A group of prostitutes observed her flight with disinterest.
 She took another turning, found it was a dead end and ran back.  
 Soon she was starting to tire. And she could still hear the Triads pounding after her, a street or so away. 
 On a sudden giddy impulse she made for the nearest of the buildings on her left. There was a sign on the front but she had no time to take in what it said or to ring the bell. She just threw open the door and ran in.  
 She stood in a drab little hallway with a moth-eaten carpet and walls from which the plaster was peeling, trying to decide how she would stall if the occupants challenged her. Starting to explore, she found herself in a corridor with a number of doors on the right. From within one of the rooms she heard shambling footsteps. 
 Since they knew she was in the building there wasn't much point in hiding. She waited nervously until the door of the room creaked open and a tiny, bowed figure appeared, shuffling towards her. It wore a robe, and a little black cap on its head. It stopped and stared hard at her. The yellow skin of the old woman's face was wizened like a walnut, but the eyes still blazed with intelligence and life.
 She seemed to sense the tension emanating from Caroline. "You run from someone," she said, wrinkling her lips in a knowing grin. 
 "They may have gone now," Caroline said. "But I need to be sure. Can I stay here for a bit?"
 The woman continued to look her up and down. Then she nodded. 
 At her age, Caroline sensed, she wasn’t much bothered about what anyone might do to her.  
"You want palm read?" she asked.
"Er − yes, alright," said Caroline brightly.
"Fifty yuan."
 She dug in her purse, found the right money and handed it over. The woman beckoned to her to follow as she turned and shambled back into the room from which she had come. It was more or less bare except for the two cushions on the floor.  The woman lowered herself slowly onto one of them, gesturing for Caroline to take the other. 
 Caroline held out her hand for inspection, palm upward. The old woman took it and studied it intently, frowning.  Caroline observed the expression on her face with some trepidation.
 At length she looked up and shook her head. "It strange.  Normally I see something; maybe good, maybe bad. But there nothing there."
 Caroline froze in alarm, some of the colour draining from her face.     
 Then she bowed her head, speaking softly and quietly. "I often have this dream...I'm wandering about this house and I come to a door. I open it and I see a bare, empty room. Or I know there's something in the room, something important I have to find, and when I go in I see a table with something lying on it. I take a look but it's only a blank sheet of paper. Do you suppose it means..."
The fortune teller smiled. "Perhaps it just mean next bit not yet written."
 The thought hadn't occurred to Caroline before. Her face relaxed, the eyes lighting up, and she smiled warmly.
 The fortune-teller leaned towards her. "Of course," she said in a low, warning tone of voice, "next bit may be the last." 
 And then they heard the front door flung open with a crash, and several people come running through it. Caroline sprang to her feet in alarm.
 The fortune teller swivelled round on her cushion. "Out back way," she said, pointing to a door in the far wall of the room. "Through there."
 Caroline dashed through it into another corridor. There was a further door facing her, which she presumed from the old woman's words led outside.  
 It did. She found herself in a narrow alleyway strewn with rubbish. Her feet slipping and sliding in a slimy mess of food waste and dog excrement, she went down it in a stumbling run. 
 The alleyway opened into a dingy little street that wasn't much wider. On an impulse she ran to the left, and kept on running. Eventually, completely exhausted, she skidded to a halt beside a cluster of dustbins, cardboard boxes and black canvas bags filled with rubbish. She buried herself among them and waited. She thought she Triads pass by a street or two away, the sound receding gradually out of hearing.
 She hid there among the rubbish, her heart thumping. After a few minutes had passed she ventured out cautiously, eyes darting from one direction to the other.  
 No sign of the Triads. Well, since she couldn't stay here forever she ought to make a move, try and find her way back to the company. She set off.  
 She had got no more than a few paces when a figure detached itself from the shadows at her side, and she felt something soft and wet press against her face. With a muffled gasp of horror she realised what it was. She struggled to thrust the pad of chloroform away, but already the fumes were filling her nostrils with their sweet, sickly smell.
 All sense of balance and coordination was rapidly going. Her legs wouldn't obey her and she was powerless to resist the figure whose strong arms were holding her fast.  
 The man felt her go limp and released her. His companion caught her as she fell, and the two of them dragged her off into the darkness.   


TWENTY-TWO
As Derek Slate's car pulled up outside his North London flat he caught sight of his wife's face peering out at him from the living room window, and flashed a smile at it.  
 The lovely dark-eyed, dark-haired girl opened the door and enfolded him in a loving embrace as he entered. He thought she saw a hint of tears. It was par for the course with police work, a lot of the time, but she and the kids hadn't seen a great deal of him these last few days.
"All right?" she asked. 
"I guess so," Slate grinned.
"Well, you come and have some tea." 
 Slate trudged into the living room and plumped himself down on the sofa. He felt the exquisite sensation as the stress drained from him. For a moment he felt calm and relaxed, but then his face grew dark and troubled again.  
 He knew very well what was preying on his mind. He also knew that if he changed it, abandoned the strategy he was insisting on, it would make him look indecisive, and the sudden disappearance of Yusef Ramasseh arouse the terrorists' suspicions. 
 Michelle joined him, and they sat and sipped at their tea together. "Tell me honestly, are you enjoying the new job?" his wife asked.
 "Oh, it's good fun. Bloody hard work, of course." Though Slate's main concern was infiltrating the group who had killed Fereydoun Khambatti the everyday work of keeping an eye open for any other terrorist cells which might exist throughout the country and investigating the various possible leads, many of them false, which came up had to go on. There was a danger that too much success in exposing them would make the West London cell that appeared to exist jittery and therefore more suspicious of newcomers to its ranks, such as  Ramasseh. But they must be seen to be doing something about the terrorist threat, and besides there was a limit to what could be sacrificed for the sake of his pet operation (that, as Slate was uncomfortably aware from odd slices of conversation he had picked up, was how his colleagues regarded it).  
 Michelle studied his tired face in sudden concern. "You OK, Del?" she whispered, putting down her cup and leaning closer to him. 
"Yeah," he grinned, "I'm OK."
 "It's not really much worse than any other police job," he told her. Michellle supposed this was true.   
"Still regret giving up your old one?" she asked.
 "Yeah, sure. But it's all in the past now." There was no reason, he told himself, why he should have expected to serve in any one post for the whole of his time in the Force. It was common practice for detectives to transfer from one duty to another, returning to their previous specialism once they had passed on their particular skills. 
 "And how are you getting on with this murder business?" She had known there must be a connection between the terrorist threat and the killing of Fereydoun Khambatti, or Slate in his new role would not be investigating it. But that was about all.
"We've got a few leads," he said vaguely.  
 Michelle sighed. "I know you're not supposed to tell me much. I know it's all very important and that. But I'm sure I wouldn't go shooting my mouth off to everyone. You can credit me with some sense."
 Slate smiled lovingly, and reached out to stroke her hair. "You've got lots of it, 'Chelle."
 "I'd like to know," she said earnestly. "Please. There are all sorts of rumours going around. I...I'm scared, Del."
 The kids hadn't kept their mouths shut. Perhaps it was too much to ask from a group of young people, inclined at times to be thoughtless and undisciplined, and no doubt anxious themselves about the danger their city was facing. Something would probably have leaked out in any case.
 The rumours must explain the slight increase in racial attacks that had been reported over the last week or so. The attacks had resulted in a number being hospitalised, had spread a certain amount of fear and ill-feeling. But they had been nowhere as serious as they might had an actual bombing occurred.
 She closed her hand about his. "Maybe I...maybe I'm being a bit silly. But you've got to remember, I work in the City. I haven't got any choice. And if a bomb goes off on the tube when I’m on it, or in the street where I'm walking...I'm trapped, Derek. And they know that. The terrorists know that, the bastards.
 "But if I knew what was going on, what you were doing about it and how close you were to stopping it, then somehow I know I'd feel better." Again she looked at him imploringly, her brown eyes big and wide. "You've always known you can trust me, Derek. Why not show it now? Please, for my sake."
 Slate thought a little, then gave in with a sigh. "All right. We've got a man at the moment trying to infiltrate the cell. If he has any luck, if they tell him what they're planning, he'll let us know straight away. But I want to run the thing as long as I can in case we find out anything important about other al-Qaeda groups."
 Michelle nodded slowly. "All right." Again she looked uncertain. "But what if something goes wrong?"
"There's no sure guarantee against that," he muttered.  "Ever."
She looked hard at him. "And if it does?"
 We could move out, Slate nearly said. Leave the city. But then he'd have to abandon the job. And both of them preferred the bustling friendliness of London to the soulless ghetto of some straggling village in a semi-rural district of the Home Counties, probably consisting mostly of 1960s concrete boxes. There was no way they could uproot themselves from it.  
 The thought of his wife's fears, and the words in which she had expressed them, preyed hauntingly on his mind. Was the way he was proposing to go about things really the right one?  
If something did go wrong...oh God, if it did...
 Was he just out for glory, the kudos of being the man who wound up al-Qaeda's whole network in Britain? No, he decided, he wasn't. He wouldn't risk the lives of his wife and kids for that.   
 "You can't let the fear of it spoil your life," he told Michelle suddenly. "You've just got to get on with living."
 He found himself staring out the window into the garden, at the two little girls, one dark and one fair, playing underneath the big old tree that stood at its centre, working their way gingerly around its sprawling roots. The sun caught the blonde one's hair and turned it into a golden halo.  
 It was his responsibility. That meant he had some control over the situation, a chance to influence how things turned out. That was better than being a helpless, unsuspecting victim, walking into a pub one day expecting a drink and a chat with a mate and getting blown up by a terrorist's bomb. Yes, he preferred it that way. But what a burden it was he'd taken upon himself. 
 Slate thought back to why he had joined the police in the first instance, some fifteen years previously. He had wanted to do some good in society, and in the battle against crime the police were obviously the first line of defence. The sheer nastiness of many criminals nowadays, and the distress their evil caused their often helpless victims, offended the young Slate's sense of decency and justice. Even if just by catching them after the event − as happened much too often − he was striking a blow against that wickedness. Though he’d had the intelligence and the education − he smiled proudly at the photo on the mantelpiece showing himself in gown and mortar board on Graduation Day − to have gone straight into detective work he had come to it through the uniformed branch; as was generally the custom, one of which Slate heartily approved. It was wrong to expect uniform to do this or that for you, putting them to a great deal of trouble for your benefit, without having first seen things from their end so that you understood the problems they had to face and could empathise with them. It meant they and you saw each other as being in the same boat, not as rivals, and could work together much more effectively. Theirs was a dirty and unglamorous calling and Slate liked to think that by catching criminals he was preventing crime in the future and therefore making their job a bit easier. The sad fact was, of course, it too often failed to deter other felons from preying on the innocent. He always told himself that without his efforts things would be a lot worse; the same criminal could by being banged up be stopped from robbing someone, maybe maiming or killing them, ever again.
 His performance in uniform had pleased his superiors sufficiently for them to inquire after a time whether he would be interested in detective work. Slate replied that he was. What motivated him was the thought that if, say, a child or a young man or woman went missing, his work if successful meant that at the very least their murderer would be apprehended and put away for life. Prevented from killing again. And if they were found alive and well, having run away or been abducted, their relief and that of their loved ones would be a joy to see. That was what he bore in mind whenever a case came up and he was faced with the mind-crushing routine of often fruitless enquiries, the endless paperwork and the constant battle of wits with suspects or informants from whom it was difficult to prise information. And, all too often, the failure of judges to properly punish those who were obviously guilty.
 Hard work, plus the initiative, common sense and tact he had shown in dealing with the public, enabled him to pass the exams and objective test exercises and eventually reach his present rank. He was undecided as to whether he wanted to go any higher. That would be difficult, because the upper echelons of the Force were still dominated by people from a fairly narrow social elite. He was doing a good enough job as it was, anyway. And whatever the benefits in terms of recognition, he couldn’t right now imagine anything much more important. 
 Michelle opened the window and called out. "Sonia, Kimberley! Your Daddy's here, come and say hello to him."
 They ran to him with joyful cries, their little faces grinning delightedly, wrapping themselves tightly around his legs. He hoisted them both up into his arms and cuddled them to him, listening with indulgent affection as they happily described to him what they'd done at school that day. Later the thought of it tugged sharply at his heartstrings. 
 He wanted them to be safe, and for good. He wanted them to grow up in a world where they would not be in constant danger from a band of twisted fanatics with no respect at all for the sanctity of their lives. Ever, he thought savagely.  

At ten-thirty in the morning of Wednesday 29th June a young Arab man went into a tailor's shop just off the main street of a West London suburb and bought several pairs of stretch denims.
 The shop owner was quite happy to make the transaction. He might simply not have known that stretch denims were one of the items necessary for the manufacture of a suicide bomb.  If he had, it is a matter of debate whether it would have made any difference to him. His customer might of course have wanted them for a perfectly legitimate reason. And he might not have been comfortable refusing to sell them to someone who appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin; he might have felt he was discriminating, or that people would say he was.  Many others would have had the same qualms. Whatever the reason, the purchase went ahead, and soon he was back at his computer attempting to calculate his monthly profits, while the buyer went back to his house and stuffed the denims away in a cupboard. Until such time as they would be needed.  

TWENTY-THREE
The mosque was a community centre as well as a place of worship. All sorts of activities went on there; people of all ages could be seen studying, relaxing, or playing table-tennis in a room set aside for the purpose. The old folks mostly just sat and benignly watched the world go by.  
 The mosque was a school, where children and sometimes adults learnt Arabic and studied the Koran, a court of Islamic law, a place where people could meet with an imam or other person of wisdom and judgement to discuss their personal problems, a venue for the celebration of births, marriages and deaths and for parties, lectures and debates.
 At Ali's house Yusuf Ramasseh had enjoyed a pleasant chat with the family over tea and sweet pastries during which Ali had mentioned that there was a discussion group at the mosque that Friday, asking Ramasseh if he would like to attend. Knowing he must involve himself in the life of the place as much as possible, he told his host that he would. And so on the said evening the two of them duly joined the other worshippers gathered around the imam, who was to lead the discussion, in the mosque’s meeting room. 
 The imam was a distinguished-looking grey-bearded man in a white robe and turban. His round metal-framed spectacles gave him a scholarly appearance; and he was, indeed, a man of learning and wisdom, universally respected among the Muslim community and popular too with his non-Muslim neighbours, who had affectionately nicknamed him the "ayatollah." A familiar figure around the town, he was sometimes to be observed smoking, which caused some amusement to those not of the faith, who expected of him behaviour rather more abstemious.  
 The subject of the discussion was the place, and future, of Islam in the world, and how September 11th and other terrorist atrocities had affected relations between Muslims and their non-Muslim neighbours. 
 "I think most people in this country are tolerant," said Ali. "Things are not as bad here as they are elsewhere."
 The imam nodded. "But racial attacks are on the increase," he said. "You will have heard of the incident at the mortuary." In a chilling and nauseating display of hatred someone had draped several rashers of bacon over a dead Muslim woman, in reference to the Islamic aversion to pork.  
 The discussion began to flow. "But it is still only a minority who behave that way." 
"A minority that's growing."
 "Perhaps. Or maybe the hatred was always there, but people are expressing it more."
"Why should they be doing that?"
"Because of September 11th. That and other things. Other atrocities."
 The imam intervened. "It is still a very small number of people we are talking about. And things calm down after a while. But I am still concerned. Fortunately, the invasion of Iraq has not caused the trouble we thought it would..." 
 "It will, in time," Ali Katadeh said. "I think the long-term consequences of the war have yet to become apparent. If there are more terrorist atrocities, and in this country, we know what will happen."
 "If there are, what do we do?" someone asked. It was clear people were worried.
 "It's a question of overcoming ignorance," said Ramasseh, deciding it was time he made some contribution. "For example we must make sure children are educated to understand and respect us."
 The imam's grey head nodded. "If possible. But no child is a slave to what he or she is taught. Allah has given us all free will. We cannot always prevent people from using their freedom to attack what they do not understand."
 He smiled ruefully. "Schools and local authorities have already spent a great deal of time and money on anti-racist education programmes. But if a child's parents are prejudiced, as is so often the case, they will be of little value.
 "It is just as much a matter of how we, as adults, behave. The white community has its own needs, and we must be careful to show we understand them. If the police or the security services sometimes appear to give special attention to Muslims it is because they are trying to prevent the extremists among us from committing atrocities. It is reasonable that people should be afraid, that they will want to protect themselves and their families. And after all, if these terrorists choose to hide within our community it is there that the police will look for them. We must stay calm and not react with anger, for that will play into our enemies' hands. It will look as if we are putting ourselves before the rest of society."
 And then suddenly Ramasseh burst out in anger, leaping to his feet. "What you are saying is that we have to be nice to them all the time, be good British citizens, nice well-behaved British Muslims. When all the while they hate us, fear us. They pretend they have all accepted the multicultural society; I tell you, they are hiding their true feelings towards us." He went on about how angry he was about being favoured because of his white skin while his relatives were the objects of discrimination.  
 Judging from the murmurs, in a few cases shouts, of approval his words were met with a substantial section of the meeting seemed to agree with him. Encouraged, he continued with his impassioned monologue. "They want to drive us out, al-Qaeda or no al-Qaeda. And why should they consider themselves better than us? They lie, they steal, they cheat, they rape and murder one another. They are no better than animals, the lot of them. We should kill all the infidels; the Jews, the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Christians, those who have no God at all..."  
 His audience sat rigid and stony-faced as the tirade went on. Even those who had initially sympathised with him began to feel, judging by their expressions, that he had gone much too far.
 Eventually he exhausted himself and sat down, the violent shaking of his body gradually subsiding. There followed a long, tense silence. Then the imam spoke, shaking his head slowly. "You should not say such things. They will only get us into trouble and we all know the situation is difficult enough for us as it is. You will spread even more hatred by such talk as that. Nor is it true Islam. I must ask you, are you prepared to apologise for what you have just said?"
 Ramasseh glared back at the old man, unimpressed. "Why should I?" he snapped.
 Although the imam, like all senior figures within the Muslim religious community, had no official position he enjoyed an authority founded on respect. The way Ramasseh had spoken to him was unforgivable. People were shouting now, furious with anger. Ali was in a state of shock, staring at his new friend in horrified disbelief.  
 "If that is what you think," said the imam sternly, "I am afraid you will not be welcome here."  
 "Then fuck you!" Ramasseh roared, to the horror of the congregation who jumped to their feet in protest. Ramasseh sprang up and stormed across the room to the door, shouting and cursing all the way. The imam's eyes gleamed coldly as they followed him.
 He marched out of the building and stood on the pavement with shoulders hunched and fists clenched, face set in a look of smouldering rage. And feeling drained by the effort of vehemently expressing emotions he did not feel, sickened at the thought of the anger and disgust he had caused. 
 He remained standing there for several minutes. He was about to move away when he sensed someone come up to him, and felt them rest their hand lightly upon his shoulder. "Excuse me, my friend."
 He turned sharply to see one of the people who had been at the meeting; a short, thickset, dark-haired young man in his twenties, who he had listened attentively to all that was said but ventured no comment himself. A couple of other men who had been sitting with him and who Ramasseh guessed were friends of his hovered a few feet away.
Ramasseh raised his eyebrows inquiringly.
 The man’s voice was friendly. "I would just like to say that I understand what you just said. They should not have spoken so harshly to you."
 Ramasseh let his furious scowl melt away, reforming into a delighted smile. "May you be praised."
 "There are others among us who think as you do," said Ahmed al-Kursaali. "Would you like to come round to my house for tea? We must talk."
Ramasseh nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, of course."
 al-Kursaali motioned him towards a car. They got in together with Kursaali’s two friends and drove off. 
 During the journey they took the opportunity to introduce themselves properly. At the house, they made small talk for a while over tea and cakes; once it was exhausted a pregnant silence fell over the four of them. al-Kursaali seemed to be thinking.
 Suddenly he drew himself up, and asked Ramasseh to remain seated while he and Yunus and Rachim left the room to confer. They were gone for about five minutes; then they returned, and al-Kursaali went to stand before Ramasseh.
 "Let me say this. What you said in the mosque today was quite right, though you were unwise to say it out loud and in front of so many people. We have to stop what the infidels are doing, by killing them if necessary. Do you want to join us?"
"Who are you?" Ramasseh asked warily.
 "Is that not obvious? We are al-Qaeda. The Base. You must surely have heard of us."  
"Do you want to join us?" al-Kursaali repeated.
 Ramasseh pretended he was thinking about it. Then he nodded rapidly, breaking into a broad grin that showed all his teeth. His eyes were shining. "Yes," he said fiercely. "Yes, I'll join you."
"Allah be praised," they chanted.
 "You understand," al-Kursaali said, "that there can be no changing your mind. If you betray us to the police you and your family will be in serious trouble. I don't like to make threats, but I have to say it nonetheless."
 "For the cause of Allah it's quite permissible," said Ramasseh. "But I won't let you down."
 "Good. But you must be careful not to let your feelings show again, particularly in front of the infidels."
"I'm sorry. I let my anger carry me away with it."  
 "We all do that sometimes. Now, there is one thing I must ask you. Would you be prepared to sacrifice your life if it was necessary for the cause?"
 Ramasseh started involuntarily. He felt himself go cold. Then he told himself things wouldn't get that far.  
 al-Kursaali smiled understandingly. "It is not demanded of all of us. We are but weak vessels; and there are other ways in which you can help us. Later we will discuss them."
 Ramasseh let himself relax, settling deep into his chair.  He looked at al-Kursaali. "Tell me," he began hesitantly.  "The man who was murdered near here. Fereydoun Khambatti.  Did you..."
 al-Kursaali studied him closely with his dark, piercing eyes. Again the Algerian weighed the pros and cons in his mind and came to a decision. 
 "Yes, that was us. He was going to tell the police what we were planning. His death should serve as a warning to anyone else who might betray us." It was clear that warning applied to Ramasseh as well. 
"So what are we going to do?" Ramasseh asked.  
 al-Kursaali leaned towards him, a gleam in his eye and a cunning, wolfish grin on his face. "Let me tell you." 

Consciousness returned so slowly to Caroline that she wasn't sure for a time whether she was awake or dreaming. She made a move to get up, but found her body and limbs refused to obey her.  
 She looked down to find herself unrestrained secured and apparently in one piece. The only thing physically amiss with her was a slight headache. Apart from the fact that she couldn't move.
 She had been drugged, obviously. Something was paralysing her nervous system, except for her brain which remained unaffected and able to think clearly. She felt a dreamy sensation of peace and security; it was peculiar, but somehow she didn't feel herself to be in any serious danger.  
 She was slumped on a sofa in a spacious room luxuriously furnished in traditional Chinese style. One wall was covered by a silk tapestry embroidered in gold with dragons and flowers, another panelled in lacquered wood. The floor was thickly carpeted, and in the centre stood a polished mahogany desk on which sat a word processor, rather incongruously she thought. A gentle draught was coming from somewhere, rocking the paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling. She found herself following their movement as they swung gently; it had an almost hypnotic effect.  
 Beside the word processor wisps of smoke were curling upwards from a porcelain bowl. She couldn't see what it held but the air was filled with a sweet, cloying scent, not strong enough to be disagreeable and in fact very pleasing to the senses. Something was being burned; incense? Rice paper? Whatever it was, it must explain her sense of wellbeing and tranquility.
 More than at any other time during her travels around the world, and she had seen a huge variety of places in her time, she found herself drawn into a culture that was mysterious and totally alien, an unfathomable, alluring mystery; of being very, very far indeed from home.  
 The wall facing her was not so much a wall as a partition, made up of wooden slats. She had the sudden impression there was someone behind it, watching her through the gaps between slats; a vague, shadowy figure.
 She strained her eyes to see better. Then a voice spoke from behind the partition. She heard it with perfect clarity; there must be a hidden amplifier somewhere. It spoke in English, clear and precisely enunciated but with the sing-song rhythms of the Orient. It was soft and sibilant, the way a cat would speak if it could. 
"Greetings, Miss Kent. How are you feeling?"
 "Er, fine thanks," she answered. "Why don't you come out and show yourself? No disrespect intended, but I prefer dealing with people face-to-face."
"For you to see me would not be advisable for either of us."
 "You mean you don't want me to know too much," she replied, feeling a pang of relief. Obviously her captors were planning to let her go at some point, or it wouldn't matter to them.
 "I do not wish you to suffer at all if it can be avoided."  The tone of the voice was sincerely courteous. "That is why I saved you from those Triad thugs."
 "You did?" she gasped. She had thought it was the Triads who were holding her. 
 "I did. Fortunately H'Sien Choi's family are not the only ones in Hong Kong to have spies within the police department."
"Look, er, thanks. I mean really − "
 "Your thanks are accepted. However I shall not thank you if you continue to endanger both your wellbeing and mine by your activities." A hint of menace had entered the silken tones.  
 "I am taking the opportunity to warn you. This time I have been merciful. Next time...maybe. Or maybe not."  
 "You have great courage and great intelligence," the speaker went on. "And you must have family, people who love you and care for you. Altogether, it would be an immeasurable loss to the world if you had to be killed."  
 There was a silence. It was obvious she was expected to say something.
"I'll remember that," she muttered. 
 The figure behind the screen didn't reply. "I mean," she began awkwardly, "obviously I'm grateful for you for saving my life but..."
 After a moment in which its owner seemed to be thinking the sibilant voice replied. "Well, you have had your warning. I will leave you to consider your options. You will sleep now, Miss Kent. Have no fear for your friends: you will be returned to them long before they have cause to worry about you. Goodbye." She heard a speaker shut off with a click. A door in one of the side walls opened and two young Chinese women entered the room, both clad in white overalls like nurses. They came towards her, seeming to glide rather than walk, their tread so light she barely heard it. The flat Mongoloid faces were without expression. One of them was carrying a syringe. She smiled up at them resignedly as they bent over her, but got no response. She flinched slightly at the prick of the needle, then felt the drowsiness overwhelm her.
 The two Chinese girls bent, lifted her gently from the sofa and carried her from the room. 

TWENTY-FOUR
In the living room of al-Kursaali's parents' house the guests had begun to mingle, chatting freely and sipping at their soft drinks from long tall glasses. The old people, al-Kursaali's father in his turban and long robe and his mother in her veil and chador, sat and cast a proprietorial eye over the youngsters, feeling with a warm sense of contentment that things were as they should be. 
 While Ahmed al-Kursaali and Yusuf Ramasseh were talking a young woman in a chador came over to them. al-Kursaali sensed her presence and turned to greet her, planting a kiss on her cheek. 
"Yusuf, this is my sister, Samira," he said.
"Hi." Yusuf and the girl shook hands.  
 Yusuf studied the young Muslim woman with interest. She was in her early twenties, and undoubtedly beautiful, but her face showed clearly the lines of stress and grief. He wondered why.
"I understand you're new to the area?" Samira said.
 "That's right. I moved in just a week ago. I'm still finding my feet." He winced mentally at the phrase he had chosen, reprimanding himself. Using banal language was one way of making it obvious you were presenting a front. 
 "And you're one of the people my brother spends all his time with," she grinned.  
"He's being kind enough to look after me while I settle in." 
 al-Kursaali and his friends had moved away now, and Samira and Ramasseh were left to talk. He told her about his job, pretending to be a civil servant. And about his childhood and early youth, how he was treated well because of his appearance while his darker relatives weren't. He let it all flow freely, relieved to be able to tell the truth for once. But he didn't reveal the fact, as he hadn't to al-Kursaali and his friends, that for a significant period of his life he had not been a practising Muslim or indeed had any contact with those who were.  
 Samira listened with interest, and sympathy, to his account of the culture clash he had experienced. "I'm sorry," she said when he had finished, touching him lightly on the arm. 
 She wasn't by any means ugly, with her fine-boned face and large dark eyes, and he kept on visualising her in casual Western dress with her arms and legs bare and her long dark − at least he guessed it was dark − hair tumbling free around her shoulders. 
"There's certainly a lot of prejudice about," she observed.
 "That man who was murdered," he said, more as a conversational point than for any other reason.  
 She closed her eyes, lowered her head, and for a moment said nothing. Ramasseh saw the tears in her eyes.
"Are you all right?" he asked, startled.
 She managed to compose herself. "Sorry," she smiled. "It's just that he..." she gulped. "He was my fiancee."  
 Ramasseh gave an involunatary start. His eyebrows shot up and his mouth sprang open in astonishment. Astonishment, not just shock at such a tragic event. "Your fiancee?"
 She paused briefly before speaking, looking at him in a curious way. "Er - yes," she said, her tone making clear her surprise at his reaction.  
 Ramasseh collected his wits. "I'm really sorry," he said sincerely. "That's awful. Are you...are you OK?"
"Most of the time," she said wistfully. "Thanks."
"So you were going to be married..."
"A week from when he was murdered."  
 "I'm sorry," he repeated. "Do you think they'll catch the people who did it?"
 "I don't know. Sometimes they get them and sometimes they don't. On the whole they're pretty good, the police. Better to stop it happening in the first place, of course."
 "Most of the time you don't know when someone's going to do something like that, do you?" 
"No, you don't, unfortunately."
 "So, um, who do you think could have killed him? Nobody seems to have a clue right now."
 Samira shrugged. "There are...problems among us, of course.  It could have been another Muslim. Or it could have been someone who didn't like Muslims." She gave a bitter sigh.  "There is such hatred in this country."
 "I don't think it's as bad as it used to be. Of course if someone you know is killed then you don't see it that way."
She nodded slowly. "I suppose not."
"Who do you think did it?" 
He shrugged, smiling helplessly. "I haven't a clue."
 They chatted for a few more minutes before Samira left him with a gesture of apology, wishing to have a few words with her brother. Ramasseh went to introduce himself to al-Kursaali's aunt and uncle. 
 The party went on until about eleven o'clock, the young people continuing to chat for some time after the old had retired to bed. The feeling as things broke up was that it had been a great success. Just to see al-Kursaali again had been nice for his family, although he still seemed withdrawn and uncommunicative, saying little to anyone other than his friends unless you happened to speak to him first. The question of further such gatherings was left hanging in the air. Samira had told her parents she thought it was best not to press Ahmed too far at this stage.  
 Later, driving home, she reflected on how things had gone. All in all it had been a strange affair, and not just because of the way Ahmed behaved, something she was now getting used to even if it still caused her anguish. Try s she might,  she couldn’t help wondering why Yusuf Ramasseh had reacted quite the way he did over her bereavement.
 Meanwhile al-Kursaali and his friends were taking Ramasseh back to his lodgings. al-Kursaali, who had planted himself beside him in the back of the car, asked what he and Samira had been talking about. 
 There were five of them, and for all Ramasseh knew there was some lethal weapon concealed in the boot, a knife or a gun. They could murder him quite easily, first stopping the car in a lonely spot so that no-one could see what was happening. 
 "She told me she was Fereydoun Khambatti's fiancee," he answered matter-of-factly. He had to use every scrap of willpower to keep the loathing he felt out of his voice. 
 "You see now the lengths to which we must be prepared to go," said al-Kursaali. "She was my sister. But I could not allow that to distract me from my duty towards God. It must be the same with you. You understand?"
 "Of course. If I could not see that such things were necessary, I wouldn't have joined us."
 They each clapped him on the shoulder. "Truly you're one of us, my friend," al-Kursaali grinned.  
 Christ, he could do this better than he’d ever expected. He was discovering abilities in himself he had never dreamed existed.
 Privately his mind was churning as he considered the implications of what he’d learned. So al-Kursaali had been a party to the murder of his sister's fiancee. It seemed he had carried out the act, or let it happen, quite ruthlessly, although when they’d first met he hadn't been able to bring himself to admit to Ramasseh he had been responsible for bereaving his own sister, preferring to let him find out in due course. In case it had been too much for the newcomer to their group. He would no doubt have been happier to have kept Samira out of things altogether, in case the truth came out; but as he had told Ramasseh, that was impossible if suspicion as to the nature of their activities was to be avoided. 
 Ramasseh felt himself stiffen. The bastard, he thought. The cold-blooded, inhuman bastard.  
 Since he had first met al-Kursaali he had become privy to all the man's darkest desires and bitterest animosities, the things that caused him to despise the West and all it stood for. And yet he still felt he was nowhere near a proper understanding of what motivated that passionate, single-minded hatred. Nor ever would be. 

Caroline peered up as if through a sheet of frosted glass at a blurred, hazy shape which finally resolved itself into Tsien Ho's kindly face, looking down at her in concern. "Are you all right?" he asked.  
 "Er − yeah," she answered muzzily, blinking about her. She was sitting in a chair in Ho's office at Police Headquarters.  She shook her head to clear it of the lingering effects of the drug.  
 "So what happened?" she asked once fully recovered. "Did they tell you where to find me?"
 Ho nodded. "We received a telephone call. The speaker did not identify himself. He told us to go to a warehouse in the industrial district. The place was locked up but we broke in to find you lying on the floor, drugged. Perhaps you could tell me what exactly has been going on?"
 She told him everything that had happened from the moment she realised she was being kidnapped. "You were right. The Triads have spies everywhere. I think there must be an informer somewhere in your ranks."
 Ho nodded solemnly. "The real chauffeur must have been threatened with violence against him or his family if he did not keep out of the way while they substituted an impostor. I will carry out an investigation." Caroline doubted it would stand much chance of success.
 She reflected on her experience. "It was a bloody weird business. Whoever they were, they were obviously in league with the Triads − controlling them − but from what this guy said it was clear he didn't like them very much. He’s got his eye on them. And he obviously has principles. He could have killed me but he let me go with a warning." 
"Can you describe the room where you were held?"
 She had a good memory, and gave him quite a detailed account of the place. "But where it was I've no idea. How long was I missing for?"
 "Three hours altogether. It could not have been too far from Hong Kong, though. We will search the area where they abducted you, but I imagine whoever was behind it will have been careful to leave no clues after him." 
 "If his base was somewhere near here then he's probably cleared off by now," Caroline said. "But hey, if you do find him and press charges my part in all this is going to come out."
 Ho smiled craftily. "There are ways of avoiding that. All we want are a few leads which we can use to trace this man. We don't have to say how we got them. Whoever he is, if he is involved in the white slave business he must be caught and punished. The consideration he has shown you can make no difference to that, I am afraid."
 "Of course not," she agreed. "All the same, I should be grateful to him." Again she wondered at the strangeness of it all. "I just can't figure it out. He's someone to whom honour matters a great deal. But he's mixed up in something like this! Makes me think he must be doing it for some very special reason."
 "If we catch him, we’ll know what it is. And we will catch him, because now he has effectively exposed himself."
 "He wouldn't have done it unless he knew it wasn't taking that much of a risk. If he can control people like the Triads, then he's obviously someone very powerful and very dangerous. It won't be easy to touch him."
 Ho changed the subject. "We are trying to recover the car with your belongings in it. What will you do then?"
 "No disrespect, but I'm getting out of Hong Kong as quickly as possible." 
"Will you obey his warning?"
She shrugged. "I suppose I'd better."
 A little later the call came from Ho's men to say they'd found her car with her belongings in the boot. She remained at Police HQ until they arrived with the suitcase, then Ho personally drove her to the airport.
 She waved goodbye to him at the entrance, then went through into the booking hall. There she made straight for the China Airways counter, where she cancelled her reservation and bought a new ticket, not for London but for Tokyo.  

TWENTY-FIVE
Mary Jean Patterson couldn't believe what she was hearing. "You mean there's nothing you can do to help me?"
 She heard the scrape of chair legs on the floor as the man before her shifted uncomfortably.  
 She had had just enough money for the train fare to Tokyo. On arriving at the Embassy and explaining her problem she had been taken to see the official to whom she had just finished telling her story. It was an excited, somewhat incoherent account but she thought he'd got the essence of it.  Afterwards, out of breath, she had sat for a while regarding him hopefully, and gradually becoming uneasy at his noncommittal silence. 
 Finally he broke it. "Well...by law there's nothing we can do, because you signed up to it in good faith. You're on your own."
"There's nothing you can do?" she gasped.
"I'm afraid not."
 It was unbelievable. Her own Goddamn embassy. As she reflected on the craziness of it her eyes grew wider and wider. Suddenly it hit her, and she felt a surge of anger. "You think I'm a God-damn prostitute, don't you? Listen, I'd no idea what it was really about when I did it. They tricked me well and good."
 He shrugged. "If I may say so, Miss Patterson, it wasn't very wise of you." 
 She felt crushed by this. Her expression was one of hurt, indignation, and dismay. She became aware that he was speaking again. "I mean, it's not like you're working illegally, not if you actually signed a contract. By law they must have knowingly sent you and those other girls to a brothel for there to have been any wrongdoing, and that's going to be difficult to prove with just your word for it. Maybe if the other girls..."
 "They won't say anything. They're too damn scared." Their fear had been written all over them, in their body language and in their wide glassy eyes.   
"Have you been in touch with the agency in America?"
 "I've tried calling them but I never get any reply. Doesn't that prove it?"
"There's not enough evidence," he insisted.
"So what are you saying I should do?"
 "When you've got enough money to buy your passage back, I suggest you just catch the first flight home.”
 "They’ve got my passport and they won't give it back. I'm stuck here unless you help me."
 He had started playing with the pen in his hand, once or twice pausing to stare fixedly at something or other on the desk. 
 Again Mary Jean lost her temper. "Jesus, do you God-damn understand what I'm saying to you? It's prostitution, for Chrissake. Forced prostitution."
 He went on in the same vein as before, seemingly unmoved, his tone flat and dull. "If you return home without their permission you'll be violating the terms of your contract. I can't assist you in breaking the law. You realise they could bring an action against both you and us."
 The man had been trying to avoid her gaze all through the conversation. Now their eyes met and for a moment or two they stared at each another. Mary Jean's expression was angry, the diplomat's somehow hard and blank at the same time. He managed an apologetic half-smile.  
"Do you think I'm lying to you?" she asked.
 "No, Miss Patterson, I'm just saying there's no proof. How's anyone to know you didn't just lose your passport?"
 "I'm not leaving this building until you give me a new one, and the money I need to get home."
 "Then I'm afraid I may have to call the police," he said, trying to sound mean.
 A million years seemed to pass while she sat there helplessly, trying to decide whether resistance would achieve anything, whether there was anything more she could do to change his mind.  
 At length Mary Jean rose to her feet, her face pale and shocked. "Er, I...I'll show you out," he offered, making a move to get up. 
 She didn't respond, and he sat down again. She walked very slowly and stiffly from the office, her face devoid of all emotion. It wasn't until the doors of the building had closed behind her that her distress and frustration finally burst forth in a shower of hot, bitter tears. 
 Her experience at the club had been shocking but it had not been enough to completely crush her. She had thought there would be a way out of the situation. Now, to her horror, it seemed there wasn't. This was not something which, disagreeable as it was, she could get out of and then put behind her. She was trapped in it. God knew what was going to happen in the end. 
 Collapsing onto a bench, she buried her face in her hands and sobbed uncontrollably for several minutes. Eventually picking herself up she shambled on her way to the bus station, from where she would return to Kyoto and make her way wearily back to the establishment which was the only home she had in this country.  
 There she pushed open the door, crossed the hallway and trudged listlessly up the stairs. Once in her room she staggered over to the bed and fell wearily onto it. 
 She lay thinking for a while, trying to decide what her next move should be. Because there had to be one.  
 She glanced at her watch. Still hours to go till their evening meal, with nothing to do beforehand unless their services were required at one of the clubs. And she didn't like to think about what might happen there.
 She heard footsteps in the corridor, approaching the door. They stopped just outside it and the handle was turned.  
 The door swung open and she saw the minder standing there, grinning wolfishly. He advanced slowly towards her, savouring the moment. With no particular surprise she realised his intent. As she backed away instinctively he lunged at her and then she felt his hands squeezing her breasts through her clothing, reaching behind her to grip her buttocks...she heard something tear and shouted out in fear and panic.  
 She pummelled at his face with her fists, screaming in rage, and slashed at it with her fingernails. He yelled in pain and for a moment his grip slackened. With a desperate burst of strength she broke free and ran out. As she shot down the stairs, through the foyer and out of the building she was vaguely aware of his running footsteps close behind her. 
 He chased her halfway down the street before finally deciding it wasn't wise to cause too much of a scene in a public place. Unaware he was no longer after her Mary Jean kept running till she came to an exhausted halt. Under the incurious glances of the passers-by she staggered off in search of somewhere to sit down. As before she found a bench and slumped onto it, her mind completely blank. She stayed there for a very long time, thinking of nothing in particular, whiling away the hours until it was time for her supper and she would have no choice but to go back.
 
Tsien Ho's job was not a particularly stressful one, compared to many other policemen, since Hong Kong's crime rate was far lower than that in many other places worldwide including London. And he was a bachelor still, without the cares that inevitably take their toll on a man with a wife and children. Nevertheless he felt the need to relax whenever he came home after a shift, and had a choice of ways in which to do so. 
 He had little time for Feng Shui, for the question of whether being in a particular place or heading in a particular direction devitalised you, sapping your effectiveness. If say you had to go north, or south, or whatever then it rendered the matter academic. To cope with whatever situation you found yourself in required your own strengths and skills, not those of anything outside you – the one exception being God − and if they could be developed  sufficiently then you stood a chance. In any case he felt Feng Shui led to people panicking because their home was not built in the right place or their personal possessions not arranged in the correct sequence and they feared their health would suffer as a result; taking such care over the minute details of their daily affairs that they drove themselves apeshit anyway. He rather preferred another traditional Chinese product, Zen Buddhism. 
 Ho saw no contradiction between many of Zen's principles and his Christianity. He merely took out the bits that were incompatible with the latter and kept the rest. The belief that there was no external personal deity had to go out the window, of course. Likewise the insistence that there was no ego or that the ego was bad and should be ignored or suppressed. The latter seemed to Ho a negative philosophy, and a standard which was impossible to attain since everyone knew the ego existed. Happiness is no good to me, can never truly be experienced, unless I know that it is "I" who am happy. And it was not that the ego was bad but rather that it too often did not stand in the correct relationship to itself, to other egos, and to God, because it was inattentive to matters of religion or obsessed with status and material gain. Ho concentrated on preserving a healthy ego, by living a moral Christian life, rather than abolishing ego altogether. That didn't mean that on occasions during meditation it wasn't beneficial to try to decrease yourself, to diminish your own importance and subsume your individual existence in that of the vast, sublime, God-created whole. The self emerged all the stronger and healthier from having done it. The Buddhist philosophy of concentrating solely on something small, like a daisy, and forgetting the world around it was quite OK in itself. In the beauty of the flower you saw the beauty of God, and focusing on it renewed your spiritual and therefore your physical strength. Sometimes Ho just stared at a blank wall and reflected on God as the universal presence which is always there whatever else is or is not.
 He sat down cross-legged in the lotus position, before the flower, and purged his mind of all other thoughts. He kept his back straight, and his hands were laid one on top of the other in his lap. Gradually he relaxed his body, letting it slump like a sack, and began breathing slowly in and out.  All the time he stared at the flower and let it imprint itself on his mind, fixing on it as the focus, the still centre, of everything; the eye of the storm. The thing whose beauty and simplicity restored sanity in a confused and strife-torn world. Sometimes he used harmless drugs and perfumes as aids to his meditation; sometimes he would repeatedly utter the name of Jesus just above his breath, and try to see the cross in the flower for both were signs of God's love for the world, the one by showing how he decorated it with beautiful things, the other through the redemption bought Mankind at the cost of the ultimate sacrifice, the deity becoming human and dying in that form. And when it first bloomed the flower, like the crucifixion and resurrection, had been a sign of new life being born.  
 In these ways he achieved a trance-like state where his mind moved onto a different plane from which all earthly impurities were banished. From the still centre, the flower, he could move in and out of the real world whenever he chose, precisely because of the neutral position the centre occupied.
 He used T'ai Chi, a philosophy which drew on the traditional Chinese Taoist beliefs in the interdependence of yin and yang within the body and mind, in his martial arts. The yin and the yang were apparently opposing forces that in fact complemented each other, and could be themselves only when in a state of harmony. T'ai Chi exploited the strength of the earth (yin) and the energy (ch'i) of the heavens (yang) to focus their physical and spiritual energies so that mind and body worked together to improve balance, stability, flexibility, speed of reaction. Like Zen it involved breathing exercises, done while in training, which helped to reduce mental and physical stress and so make for a better fighter, along with improved general health.  
 The effect of all these disciplines was to enable Ho to go about his daily life in a stable, happy, content frame of mind. But it was never entirely so.
 There were the problems facing China as a whole, and the damage that might be caused if Beijing interfered too much in Hong Kong’s traditional way of life. There was also Caroline Kent's staggering tendency to expose herself to appalling dangers, which he found upset him (he often wondered whether her friends and onetime superiors at MI6 knew something about her which she didn't - which he certainly did not). Something told him that God, and Zen, and the T'ai Chi would all be sorely needed in the not too distant future. For every now and then, Ho had a brooding sense of storm clouds brewing on the horizon; dark, ominous clouds which grew gradually year by year, until they were considerably larger in size than a man's hand.

It was lunchtime, on a beautiful day, and he was in the pleasantly landscaped surroundings of the IPL compound, but Chris Barrett's thoughts were sombre as he wandered about with his hands deep in his pockets and his vaguely handsome face looking more than vaguely concerned. Whenever he met a colleague he smiled and put on a cheerfully relaxed expression, his frown returning as soon as they had passed on.  
 Caroline was supposed to have left Hong Kong on Wednesday evening, and yet at lunch on Thursday someone had told him while they were chatting in the queue at the canteen that she'd been just a couple of hours before in the back seat of a car heading out of the city towards the airport; a police car. Once enough time had elapsed for her to have got home Chris thought it would be worth ringing her, on the pretext of wanting to discuss a business matter, to enquire as to what had been going on. Though no doubt she had merely been visiting a friend.  
"I was delayed," she had told him. "Tell you all about it later."   
"I can't wait."
 "Look, I'm a bit busy at the moment. We'll talk when you get back, if you're that concerned about it. B'bye." She broke the connection. 
 There wasn't really much point in him still hanging around here. Together he and Caroline had done most of the work that the assignment involved, and since her part in it was now over she had gone home. What remained for him personally to do could just as easily be done back in England as out here; the management wouldn't particularly mind which as long as his movements were accounted for. Indeed, as it was largely a matter of paperwork it could probably be postponed for a few days, since it wasn't needed urgently.
 The compound was built on a hill overlooking the sea. He came to a gap in the hedge that bordered the property and paused to look out across the bay at the steel towers and gantries of the refinery.  
 He stood there for quite a while, wrapped in his thoughts. He supposed Caroline would a difficult person to live with; yet James had managed it, their relationship only breaking up because she had decided she still valued her independence too much for a proper long-term commitment. And maybe she would change with time, become mellowed. He told himself it shouldn't matter anyway what he stood to get out of their friendship. If you really cared about someone, then you had to care about them more than you did yourself. 
 In the afternoon sun the sprawling refinery was like a giant, gleaming science fiction city, the rays reflecting off it almost blinding him with their brilliance. He shut his eyes against the glare, and went on thinking.
 He didn't know how far MI6 were backing her on this. What he did know was that her time with them had got her into the habit of embarking on little adventures whenever there was something in the world she didn't like and felt needed rectifying. MI6 tolerated her requests for help because she, in turn, could be valuable to them. She was good at getting her man (sometimes in both senses of the phrase, which made her additionally useful).  
 His mind flashed back to another time, not so long ago, when she had infiltrated the harem of Neghid Fouasi, a fantasist who had built for himself a palace in the Arabian desert full of kidnapped Western sex slaves, with two Israeli secret service agents in order to expose his twisted white slave operation. That had been her motive, as much as the need to expose Fouasi's links with Saddam Hussein. She herself, along with a girl she had tried to save from the prostitution racket, had been a prisoner of Fouasi for a time. It wasn't surprising that she felt so strongly about such activities, and not just on her own account. If there was another white slave network in existence, this time in the Far East...
 And the thought of being captured by the slavers might not have deterred her. It hadn't deterred her from going back to Fouasi's palace, albeit in disguise, after all she had suffered there. 
The stupid little idiot, he thought, swearing softly to himself.  
 At this time, in England, it would be far too late for a phone call. He'd wait until the evening and then ring her again, in a bid to dissuade her from whatever it was she was intending to do next. If it wasn't too late.

Just off the Rue des Presidents in inner-city Paris there is a little alleyway which leads between two apartment buildings to a club called Les Ombres ("Shadows" in English). Every few weeks or months, depending on how urgently they needed to meet, a group of people would turn up at the mouth of the alleyway in their luxury cars, leaving their chauffeurs to wait for them while they made their way down the passage to the club, there to descend a flight of steps to the basement, where that side of the establishment's business which needed to be kept reasonably secret went on. Here visitors were confronted by a T-junction between two corridors. The VIPs would take the right-hand corridor, which terminated in a pair of stout doors of varnished oak with brass handles. The proprietress would unlock the doors and usher them in.
 In fact these visitors were not, unlike the rest of the establishment's clientele, there for the pleasures of the flesh, for their moral code was a rigidly puritanical one.  They had other business to attend to; the management did not mind what it was as long as they paid for use of the room.  They took the same attitude to their other clients, remembering among other things that if the principle of discretion were violated these wealthy and powerful people were in a position to exact a terrible revenge on them. Of course they too had their bargaining counters, but did not like to raise the stakes when they could get by without having to do so. 
 And secretive behaviour was itself likely to arouse suspicion unless there was some familiar, centuries-old  reason for it. So altogether the brothel was the perfect cover for the group's activities. They had told the proprietors that absolute discretion was essential, and at the same time had not been frank about the nature of what they did. Their leader had merely said that they desired a suitable place in which to practise "certain activities". Their hostess had assumed that this meant what it usually did at Les Ombres, and made no further enquiry.    
 Behind the varnished oak doors was a fair-sized room with a low ceiling. In one corner stood a bronze gong. Otherwise the place was more or less bare apart from a polished mahogany table with a row of chairs, also of polished mahogany, down one side and the thick green carpet on the floor. Three of the room’s walls were painted a pea-green colour. 
 At this moment the gong had just been struck, and as the reverberations died away the pair of green draperies which spanned one end of the room, taking the place of a normal wall, swished apart and a man stepped into view. Immediately each of the six people sitting at the table swung their right arm up and across their chest, so that the hand rested palm outwards over the heart. 
 One of them was General Ti Peng, head of the Armed Forces of the People's Republic of China, another Andrei Lepatov, a third Maurice Duquesne.  
And beside Duquesne sat Sir George Ackroyd, director-general of MI5. 
 Yu Chen bowed to them, then moved with his soft cat-like tread to take his place in the empty chair at the head of the table. 
 "We trust you have had a safe journey," said Andrei Lepatov.  Yu Chen nodded politely.
"And that you are well."
"I am well."
"Is everything going according to plan?"
 "There are no problems." None that Yu Chen had not already taken steps to remedy, anyway.
 "Then there's only one question I want to ask," said the American member of the group. Again Yu Chen nodded graciously. 
 "When the plan goes ahead there's going to be an awful lot of...disruption. How can we be sure we'll all be safe from it?"
 "I have already thought of that," Yu Chen smiled. "Do not fear. When the time comes we will be in a safe place, one I have specially designed for our protection. We shall be safe there even if the destruction spreads further than is anticipated."  
"But if it does, won't that wreck the whole business?"
 "It will be a setback. But believe me, Six, we shall recover. It may take a long time, but in the end we will dominate, and our rule will be for the best. I have considered the consequences of our plan very carefully."  
 Now he addressed the whole gathering. "Perhaps we could have the reports from each sector?"
 Sir George Ackroyd spoke first. There was one thing he regarded as a little perplexing, and had felt his duty to report to the meeting. But after a brief discussion the delegates decided that it did not represent a serious threat to their organisation's plans. Nothing else was brought up by any of them which ought to give cause for concern.
 For his part, Yu Chen had not seen any need to discuss the matter he had recently had to take steps to deal with. Mentally he made a savage crushing gesture, banishing it from his thoughts for the time being. He was sure he could handle it should it rear its head ever again.

TWENTY-SIX
Mark Goodison, one of Chris' colleagues at IPL UK, answered the call. "Mark, hi," said Chris. "Could I speak to Caroline, please?" 
 "She's not here," Goodison replied, sounding surprised.  "Far as I know she's still on holiday."
 "What?" Chris stiffened. "She told me she'd used up all her annual leave. Are you saying she hasn't been back to HQ?"
 "If she had we'd know about it," Goodison grinned. Before long Caroline would have spotted that something was wrong somewhere and began making a fuss, or come up with another bright idea which she expected everyone to enthusiastically endorse, dropping all they were currently doing in order to implement it.
 "Too right," Chris agreed. "What the bloody hell is she up to?"
 "Search me," he heard Goodison reply. Caroline was known to be a law unto herself and so her strange behaviour occasioned no surprise on his part, nor would it on anyone else's.
"Is she playing up again, then?" he asked sympathetically.
 "She sure is. OK Mark, don't worry. I wanted to talk to her about one or two things but I guess it can wait. See you all in a couple of days."  
 Chris rang off, throwing himself back in his chair with a sigh. You're up to your little games again, he thought. Aren't you? 
 Caroline didn't seem to care about the grief she caused her parents by the perils she was always exposing herself to, but he thought she might at least have had the conscience to tell them where she had gone, in case of emergencies, if not being honest about what she was really going to do when she got there. Chris was on friendly terms with Caroline's family, having made their acquaintance at various social engagements, and could always approach them without difficulty. He got out his Filofax and skimmed through it in search of their number. 

At about the same time that Caroline Kent was checking into her hotel in Tokyo a youngish man with very fair hair and a very fair complexion went into an auto parts shop in a district of south-west London and bought certain items of electrical equipment. The shop assistant of course presumed that the purchase had been made with the aim of carrying out repairs to a motor vehicle. And because Yusuf Ramasseh looked so Anglo-Saxon the assistant did not connect him in any way with Islamic terrorism, most of which was carried out by Arabs, Asians or Africans; which was precisely why al-Kursaali had selected him for this task.   

"Tokyo?"
 Fortunately Chris wasn't particularly surprised to hear it, or Caroline's father would have known something was wrong.  Tokyo; an apparent centre of the white slave trade, where most of the Western hostesses had disappeared and from where they had been shipped to Hong Kong.  
 Instead he came over as angry, which he was. Edward Kent picked up on it. "What's my daughter been up to now?" he grinned.
 "I know she's on holiday but I've got a report here I need her to sign, urgently. She told me she'd gone back to work."
 "She is a bit like that at times," Edward said. "I'm sorry you've been put to so much trouble."
"That's alright. So she's gone to Tokyo..."
"Said she had a friend there she wanted to see."
 Chris just managed to avoid bursting out laughing. "Hmmmm," he said.  
"Anything wrong?" asked Edward.  
 "No, not really. I just wish she was more easy to get hold of, that's all."
"So do I. I could give you the details of her hotel?"  
 "Please." Edward read out the address and telephone number and Chris scribbled them down.
"Well, if there's anything else I can do for you, Chris..." 
"No, that's OK. How's Margaret?"
 "She's fine. There's nothing to upset her at the moment, not really. We seem to be free of crises for the time being."  Chris knew what kind of crises he meant.
 "I hope things stay that way," he said feelingly. "OK, that's all. See you sometime."
"All the best, son."
 Chris put down the phone. "Right," he snapped, addressing no-one in particular. His eyes gleamed with angry determination.  
 He needed a few days in which to locate Caroline and hopefully talk some sense into her (some hope). It meant sacrificing a bit of his annual leave, which he was most certainly not happy about. No doubt they'd prefer to have had advance warning; he'd already prepared the excuse that an elderly relative who lived up North had suddenly fallen gravely ill.
 Having first made all the necessary arrangements with the company, he paid a visit to the bank and took out the money he would need. From there he went on to Kowloon's main library which had a collection of books in English, among them a Lonely Planet guide to Japan from which he made out a list of hotels and guest houses. Then he rang the Japanese Air Lines ticket counter and purchased himself a seat on their next flight to Tokyo.   

Yusuf was praying with al-Kursaali and his friends. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the special mats provided for the purpose, heads bowed and hands clasped before them, softly intoning a passage from the Koran.  
 The aims of prayer were to bring one closer to Allah, to calm them and purge them of dangerous thoughts and feelings; to bring a sense of peace and tranquility; to develop patience, courage, hope and confidence; to demonstrate obedience; and, most important of all, to draw the mind away from personal problems and focus them on God, praising Him, thanking Him for the good things he had done and asking for His blessing. When Muslims did this together it became a way of showing equality, unity and brotherhood.
 Ramasseh prayed a lot when he was at home, too − never at the mosque of course, after his outburst there − although he was alone there and consequently unobserved. He made sure that he was clean and respectably dressed beforehand. If his deception was to continue to work, if he was to go on appearing a convincing Muslim, he had to get into the habit of doing everything a Muslim did, if possible learning to think the way they would. Wherever he might be, he prayed the regulation five times each day; just before sunrise, in the early afternoon, between mid-afternoon and sunset, in the evening (after sunset or before dark),and between darkness and dawn. So far it all seemed to have worked; he was still afraid that secretly they knew, but put this down to nerves. He supposed that if he had been a Christian he would not have been able to manage it; but coming from no religion at all − for most of his life so far he had not had a religion − made it much easier. He could write in Muslim script on what had previously been a blank sheet of paper.  
 It was still basically an act he was putting on. But he was conscious of something present in his life, in his thoughts, that had not been there before, though he didn't yet know what it was. 
 After prayers they watched the video. It featured gruesome scenes of bombings and shootings carried out by al-Qaeda members, alternating with interviews in which the bombers explained how they had summoned up the courage to commit such acts through prayer and fasting, purging themselves of any tendency to feel sympathy for the infidels they murdered.  Finally a prominent British imam exhorted all true believers to "destroy the infidels; kill their children, take their women, destroy their homes." This policy was presumably directed against the majority of their fellow Britons, regardless of ethnicity and other factors, along with all other non-Muslims.  
 Ramasseh fought hard to keep his face solemn, struggling to repress the anger and disgust he felt. He had to imagine that he hated the West, regarded it as a corrupt and evil society whose members were to be exterminated or enslaved in the same way Hitler had tried to wipe out the Jews. To get inside these people's minds. Sometimes it wasn't difficult, when you considered how the West's behaviour might seem to some to people. And that he found disturbing.
 He would make sure, of course, that the cleric was put on the authorities' "hit list" of those to be considered for arrest or deportation.  
 Switching off the video, al-Kursaali leaned back in his chair and smiled at his companions. "The time draws near," he declared. "How do we all feel?"
 "Refreshed," said Rachim. "Calm. Sometimes I am nervous, but then I pray and after that everything is all right."
 "That is how it is with me. With all of us, I think."  Feroz, Sami, Yunus and Moaven all agreed.
al-Kursaali looked at Ramasseh. "And you?" he smiled.
 "There is only one thing that troubles me," Ramasseh said.  "What will our families think when they discover the truth?"   
 "We shall be in Heaven," Moaven reminded him. "Then nothing will matter."
 They wouldn't be around to face their relatives' wrath. How very convenient, Ramasseh thought. 
 "But if they should find out what...what we are, before we have managed to execute our plan..." 
 "We must be prepared to face separation from our own kith and kin in the cause of God. It should not matter to us what they think. Remember, if we have faith in Allah we will know that he shall be victorious however long the struggle takes.  If not in this life, then in the next. Who then can reproach us, when we are all in Paradise and the doubters in Hell? Everyone will see the justice of our cause, although for the faithless it will sadly be too late to benefit from them.   
 "In this world, it may be that all we can do is keep the fight going. The infidels will not lose but neither shall they win. If we do triumph − may Allah see fit to grant us that victory − then the world will be changed beyond recognition, and for the better."
 For a moment it seemed to Ramasseh that the glint of true madness shone in al-Kursaali's eyes. “Either way, nothing matters except our loyalty to our cause," he breathed softly. "Nothing at all. Nothing."

In her small, cramped, featureless little room at the "hotel", Mary Jean Patterson sat on the bed staring vacantly at the wall, the patch of bare white-painted plaster blotting out everything else in the whole world.  
 She had called the British and Australian embassies, but because she wasn't a citizen of either country they were reluctant to help, either by offering her accommodation or in any other way. She suspected they didn't believe her. After all, it wasn't something you expected to happen to white women, unless perhaps they were from the former Soviet bloc.  Once again, she had had no choice in the end but to come back here, as they must have known. 
 As a white American she could never have believed she'd be the victim of this kind of racket. It was that which made the experience so unpleasant and disturbing. She felt giddy, disorientated, sick in both body and mind. She tried to tell herself that most Japanese people couldn't be like this; she couldn't afford to think ill of them because right now she needed a friend and wasn't likely to find one within the walls of this...this house of prostitution.
 She was angry, both with herself for having been so naive and with her captors − that was what they were − for so shamelessly exploiting it.  
 She was certain the allowance she'd been given on arrival in the country was merely to keep her happy and would not be renewed. She had no money, no passport, no return ticket.  She was quite simply trapped, a virtual sex slave, imprisoned here in Japan at the mercy of people who regarded her as simply an object, a means for the gratification of their baser desires.
 Some of the women didn't seem to mind it, which astonished and angered her. She suspected they'd be let go eventually.  But would she be, and when?
 Meanwhile the indignities continued. On one occasion while they were dancing at a club she noticed that the attendants were throwing things to the customers; long, thin, sausage-shaped objects made of plastic. Dildos. The clients snatched them eagerly, then leaped onto the stage as they had done at the first place she'd been sent to, each making for one of the girls. They fell on her, bringing her down, then tried to prise apart her legs so that they could insert the plastic penis into her. Again Mary Jean managed to escape violation, but the next time − or the next? − she might not be so fortunate.
 She spent a long time thinking about the problem, until her brain had quite simply worn out. Was this payback for something bad she'd done at some time in the past, and if so what could it be? She decided that a punishment made no sense unless you knew what it was for, and she didn't. So she felt no guilt, only a fierce resolve to get herself out of her predicament one way or another.
 She made up her mind she would simply go out; walk through the door and try to make her way to Tokyo or one of the ports, and from there get out of the country, by stowing away if necessary. She hadn't done it before because she was too scared of the risks involved, the many uncertainties. But surely, she now thought, those risks were worth taking, were preferable to what she was presently going through and the horrors she might have to endure in the future.
 She had just made her decision when the door was opened and the minder and another man came in. Their faces were cold, emotionless slabs of solid rock. Did they want her for a performance, or was this another rape attempt? Their expressions and body language showed it must be one or the other. Spurred into action, she stiffened as they moved  purposefully towards her, gearing herself up to run.  
 She didn't get far. As she tried to dodge round them the minder grabbed her in a crushingly tight armlock.
"Fuck you!" she hollered.  
 She screamed and struggled and kicked as the other man forced up her sleeve and pressed the point of a needle against her arm, sinking it slowly into the soft flesh.  


TWENTY-SEVEN
While the undercover operation was in progress, Ramasseh was supposed to be unemployed. In reality, of course, he was still receiving police pay. When not socialising with al-Kursaali and his friends he was at the house he had rented, out of police funds, not far from the Algerian's home.
 There, he was on the phone to Derek Slate. "They had me buy some electrical stuff; wires, circuit boards, spark plugs.  Someone else has already got the clothes, the stretch denims and all that."
 In his office Slate stiffened, his blood chilling.  All the things you needed to make a suicide bomb with.
Should he...
 He kept his nerve. "Any sign of the trigger mechanisms yet, or the plastic explosive?" 
 "No, not yet. I guess they'll turn up shortly. Meanwhile all the stuff is being kept at al-Kursaali's house."
"What else is there, Ram? Have you found out anything?"
 "Nothing. They're not saying when the bombings are going to take place, not yet. The fewer people have that information the better. They all seem to understand that. Of course it could just be they're suspicious of me."
 "If they were they would have thrown you out by now. If they're still being friendly it means you're fooling them OK.  Do you think they suspect you?"
 Briefly Ramasseh thought of Samira, and the look on her face when he had expressed shock at being told of her relationship to Fereydoun Khambatti.  
 "No," he replied firmly. "I don't think so. You have to be a bloody good actor, though." 
"That's par for the course with these jobs."  
 "Having to remember what to say when you pray, all the rituals and everything, is a bit of a fag, especially after being out of it for so long."
Slate nodded. "I can't see how they manage it, anyway."
"You forget they're brought up in it." 
"As you were, yes I know. Sorry."  
 "That's OK, Sir. Anyhow...we've been doing a lot of praying, psyching ourselves up for the big day. So it can't be that far off. And watching a lot of videos, mostly showing infidels getting horribly murdered.   
 "The main thing is I know who's sending them all the gear.  It's the Chinese Muslim leader, Li Tan."
 After a brief pause he heard Slate whistle in astonishment.  "A Chinese Muslim?"
 "It's the first I've heard of one being involved in this kind of thing. I thought it was strange, too. But I guess there's no reason why they shouldn't be."
 "I think that business between him and our friend Abu Kassem must have been a ploy," Slate said slowly. "I think before he was deported Kassem put Li Tan in touch with al-Kursaali and his friends. They were admirers, you could say disciples, of his." 
"You're not going to like the next bit at all," Ramasseh said darkly.
 "We'd better get it over with then," Slate answered, bracing himself.
 "It seems Li Tan and the other al-Qaeda people in China have got hold of nuclear and bacteriological material from Russia and North Korea. Where they're keeping it I don't know, but the idea is that when the weapons are ready and the time is thought right to use them he's going to give them to al-Qaeda."
"Shit," breathed Slate, and fell silent again. 
 He pulled himself together. "Well, we know that's the kind of thing their sort would try to do. You're doing a good job, Ram. A bloody good job. I'll make sure the spooks know about this. Now have you been told anything about other al-Qaeda cells in the country?" It was the question Slate most wanted to ask.
"As far as I know this is the only one."
 But new cells might come into existence, Slate told himself.
"Or in other countries?"
 "From the general way al-Kursaali talks you get the impression there's quite a few. But I don't think he knows the exact details."
 "Are you getting a chance to snoop around, maybe come across any more clues?"
 "So far the opportunity hasn't come up for me to be alone in the house. If I was snooping around I'd have to be bloody careful not to be caught. Muslims don't like people prying into their private business, even their own lot."
 Ramasseh tried to think of anything else he ought to say. "I think they're waiting for something. Something that'll serve as a trigger for the bombings. A sign for them to act. But I don't know what it is."
 "Just keep at it, Ram. As soon as you do know anything, tell us straight away. In the meantime good luck, and speak to you soon."
"OK, Sir."
 Replacing the receiver, Slate turned to Mike Thompson who had been sitting beside him listening to the conversation. "You got all that?" 
Thompson nodded. "I still think we should put them under surveillance, Guv."
 The thought of surveillance had occurred to Slate many times. He considered it once more, then shook his head. "If someone slips up and they realise we're watching them, they could connect it with Ramasseh. He's a new recruit, he hasn't been with them for very long and suspicion could well fall on him. And then he could be in trouble and we'd lose our mole."
 "With al-Qaeda being so compartmentalised, do you really think we'll find out much?"
 "We've no idea how many al-Qaeda cells there are in this country altogether. For all we know there could be at least a dozen. Don't forget, there are still loads of asylum seekers coming into the country, thanks to the bloody mess this government's making of things, and from the business in Manchester we know some of them are terrorists." al-Qaeda would not scruple to exploit a country's lax immigration policies in order to kill its citizens. "The number of possible terrorists is being added to all the time. It's not just because I want a lot of feathers in my cap, Mike. The whole situation's giving me the creeps and I want to sort it out in one go. For good."

They were in a small, bare room whose furnishings consisted solely of a filthy, moth-eaten carpet. Through the single window in the wall opposite them all that could be seen was a patch of empty sky. The door was locked and there was nothing in sight with which it might be forced. In any case, thought Mary Jean Patterson, it was unlikely she'd get far before they caught her. From the sound of the men's voices they had positioned themselves somewhere close by, ready to instantly bar any attempt at escape. Though she had by now recovered from the effect of the drug, she was entirely helpless. She had shouted for help once or twice, but nobody had come to their aid and their abductors hadn't even bothered trying to stop her.
 The other girl, whom Mary Jean recognised as the Canadian who had gone missing just before she herself had embarked on her fateful trip to Japan, was still out cold. The two of them sat slumped against the wall like limp, empty sacks, Mary Jean drained of all energy and all hope. The Canuck's eyes were wide and glazed and her mouth was open slightly, rivulets of saliva occasionally trickling from it to hang from her chin for a second before dropping onto her blouse.  She blinked once or twice.
 Mary Jean could guess what was in store for them. Rape, followed maybe by something even worse. An unspeakable violation they would be powerless to resist.
 She had overheard their captors talking, and thought she caught something about having to ship them out soon. Where to? she wondered, feeling hysteria start to grip her. Somewhere they would never be found, if these guys knew what they were about.  
 Her family must be getting suspicious by now, but how keen were the authorities to find them? In these cases you often encountered apathy and incompetence on the part of the local police.
 What would happen to them in the end? They'd never be let go, she was sure of that. There would be too much for them to sing about.
 She wanted to be sick. How could I have been so stupid, she thought despairingly. If I get out of this I'm going straight back home and...
 Reaching inside her blouse, she fingered the good luck charm her mother had given her as a girl, hanging on its silver chain around her neck. "Oh Mom," she breathed, hot tears pricking at her eyelids. "Oh Mom, I'm so sorry."
 She sat and wept for a few minutes until her emotional energy was used up, after which she just stared with hollow eyes at the bare wall in front of her, her mind empty. 
 When would they come for them? It could be at any time, from what the men had said.  
 She felt a sudden pang of sorrow, mingled with rage, at the thought of her family's anguish when they realised she wasn't coming back. She had messed up her life, had let them down very badly, but knew they loved her nonetheless. 
 She scrambled over to the Canadian. "Look, we've got to get out of here. Do you know what they're going to do to us?"
 The girl lifted her head weakly, staring at Mary Jean with dull uncomprehending eyes, then it slumped back onto her chest again. Mary Jean looked down at her despairingly.
 She wondered why she herself was still able to move, to think and plan. Maybe they hadn't given her quite the correct dose.
She turned from the girl with a sigh.  
 The only escape route she could identify was the window. For about the fourth or fifth time she went to it and looked out. All she could see was the wall of a grubby apartment block. She gazed down into the abyss between the block and this one, a deep cavernous well with sides of bare brick. Nothing to get a purchase on. And from where she stood she couldn't tell how far down it went, which suggested what the outcome might be if she decided to jump.    
 A few feet away to her right there was a metal fire escape, a series of steel ladders and platforms going right down to the ground. It looked as if it might just be possible to climb over the railing, or slip through the gap between the rods, onto the treads.   
 Could she get to it from here? She had already considered the possibility and dismissed it. It was out of her reach, as their gaolers must have calculated. All in all it was better to stay where she was.
 No. No way. No-one was going to fucking turn her into a sex slave if she could help it. She had to do something.
 The window ledge was at roughly chest height. Pausing first to listen for any sound from their kidnappers, she unfastened the latch and eased the window open. Placing her hands on the sill, she heaved herself up until her knees were resting on it, and wriggled a little way out.  
 The fire escape was about four feet to the right of the window ledge; perhaps a little less? If she reached across...
Oh God. If she slipped.
 Heart thumping and lips trembling, she wriggled forward a bit more. She knew she had to control her body's violent shaking, and with a massive effort managed to steady herself.
If she slipped...
 She twisted round, positioning herself awkwardly with one foot behind the other since there wasn’t enough room for her to stand with both abreast. Very slowly she stood up, her heart beating still faster. 
 The Canuck would have to be left where she was. She couldn't possibly make the descent in her state. But maybe Mary Jean could get help.
 Sobbing with fear, she placed one hand on the wall to steady herself, terrified that at any moment her feet would slip from the smooth, narrow ledge. 
She daren't look down. She dare not look down.
Her head swam sickeningly.
 Rather than take the risk wasn't it better to take her chances with their abductors, wait until some other opportunity of escape presented itself?
But what if it didn't?
 She reached out a trembling arm, extending it to its full length.
 It seemed to her that her fingers just brushed the metal of the fire escape. But not enough to get a proper purchase on them. Maybe if she leaned a little further out...
But she was terrified of losing her balance.  
 Mary Jean was so scared she couldn't think straight. She forced herself to; she had to, if she was to come out of this alright. 
 The bile rose in her throat as she realised she couldn't possibly go back into the room now. If she lost her footing while she was shuffling back along the ledge, or turning to climb through the window...she wailed like a little girl.
 Perhaps if she hurled herself forward in one desperate lunge...
The impulse came upon her in a sickening rush.  
 She threw herself towards the fire escape, fingers outstretched to their maximum limit.
They grasped empty air.  
 The impact snapped her neck, along with several other vital bones, instantly and painlessly. It was the actual fall which was the worst thing.

In Sir George Ackroyd's office deep in the heart of MI5 HQ off Millbank, Derek Slate had just finished giving an account of Yusuf Ramasseh's findings to the heads of the two Security Services. He sat back and waited for their response, rather apprehensive as to what they might decide to recommend to the government. Their decision might mean the end of his cherished scheme. 
 Which secretly you'd be relieved about, wouldn't you Derek, a little voice somewhere inside him was saying. 
 Ackroyd sat up with a sharp intake of breath. "Well," he sighed, "the main question clearly is − do we carry on running the informer?"
"We need to," insisted Slate. "I think I've said why."
 Sophie Cameron-Davies, Ackroyd's opposite number at MI6, frowned severely at him. "I'm still none too sure it's the right approach, not after what you've just told us." She glanced at her MI5 colleague, angling for his support.  Ackroyd pursed his lips, keeping silence for a moment while he turned over the matter in his mind.  
 "I think I agree with the Detective Inspector," he said.  "It's taking a risk but it's worth it. We don't know enough about al-Qaeda and if we can smash the whole of their infrastructure at one go, that would outweigh any disadvantage there might be with Mr Slate's approach."
 "Besides," he went on, "if we pounce on al-Kursaali's group the cells in other countries will wonder what we might know about them. The whole network will just fold up and we won't learn a thing. It'll resurface somewhere else and maybe carry out some diabolical atrocity."
 This dampened Sophie Cameron-Davies' fire a little, but she still wasn't entirely convinced. She fixed Slate with a hard stare. "As long as you're sure you can pull them in at the right time, before anything goes wrong."
"I'm sure," said Slate, and hoped he was.
 So far he had learned nothing about other al-Qaeda cells in Britain, supposing they existed at all.   
 And in any case, if this was the only cell in existence then he'd be chasing shadows.
 He wouldn't know until the London cell made contact with the other groups; if they hadn't, it might only mean that they didn't think the time for it was right yet.
 "Are we not going to tell the Chinese government?" Cameron-Davies clearly thought they should.
 "They might arrest Li Tan and blow the whole thing," Ackroyd said. "Or they won't, because they're involved in it themselves."
 "That would be very stupid of them, especially as they're already on George W Bush's hit list. I think they're too sensible a people to do that kind of thing." Slate knew enough about international politics to hazard the remark.
 "The Americans will have to be told about this, of course," Cameron-Davies said. "My guess is they'll put Li Tan under surveillance, monitor all his calls. He's probably communicating with the different cells by satellite phone, using a form of code. It takes a while, but when he next contacts them the Americans will be able to identify the person being transmitted to." With its highly advanced electronic listening devices the US National Security Agency, based at Fort Meade in Maryland, along with its sub-stations all over the world could daily monitor and record millions of telephone conversations, whether by landline, cellphone or satellite. All it needed to do was match any call made by Li Tan to one that seemed judging by its content and timing to be in reply to it, wherever it was made from, and also get a fix on the return call's point of transmission. "You'd get on well with the CIA, both of you," Cameron-Davies told her companions disparagingly. "They believe in running a case, not closing it."
 She sighed vexedly. If the Americans wanted the case run, then the case would run. They'd get their way, because they always did. Ackroyd brushed aside her fears. "I expect they'll move in if it looks like anyone's about to do something alarming. As we will." 
 She turned sharply to Slate. "I hope your people don't mess this up," she said coldly. "This should have been a MI5 operation right from the start."
 Slate felt his hackles rising, and rounded on her fiercely. "As I've already said, I can't help the fact that the only remotely suitable candidate was one of us. We've experience of undercover jobs, obviously. And he might not have been able to build such a good relationship with someone who wasn't a policeman. And it has to be said, you haven't had much luck at penetrating them so far."
 "Indeed you haven't," George Ackroyd agreed, much to Cameron-Davies' annoyance. "Altogether I think the Inspector is doing the right thing. It seems you're outvoted on the matter, Sophie − two against one. So let's hear no more about it, shall we?"
 Later Slate heard from Ackroyd that the Americans liked the British plan and were prepared to let him get on with it. But they would expect results, and preferably sooner rather than later. 

A couple more girls had disappeared in Tokyo since Caroline had exposed the goings-on at the Jade Monkey. As things in Hong Kong would now be a bit hot for the white slave business, they would probably be sent somewhere else.  She guessed she would have to move fast if she was to prevent them disappearing for good.
 This time, she had resolved, she would not make any kind of contact with the local police, just in case they had been penetrated by the Yakuza, or whoever was ultimately running the slaving network, in the same way as the authorities in Hong Kong. As soon as she had enough evidence she would send it to as many governments and news agencies across the world as possible. 
 On seeing the advertisement in a prominent English language newspaper she had responded immediately. The very next day she turned up at the agency for her interview looking as stunning as possible in a smart dress, lipstick and make-up. As soon as the establishment's representative, a charming, impeccably dressed young man who exuded a strong smell of aftershave, had set eyes on her he had known she was what they were after. They took her on at once.
 Now she was on her way to begin her new career as a hostess. She strode down the high street in Roppongi exuding self-confidence from every pore and attracting considerable attention. Men and even women would stop her just to stroke her hair; she didn't mind it and in fact enjoyed the attention. What she didn't like were the leaflets stuck to the walls of phone kiosks and being pushed on the male passers-by by eager touts. One lay discarded on the pavement, and she stopped to pick it up; it showed a photograph of a blonde Western girl, scantily clad and in chains. For a long time she stared at it, disturbed and angry. It seemed to confirm some of the rumours she'd heard. As she walked on a number of posters bearing similar pictures, and offering such delights as "topless and bottomless", caught her eye. They were affixed to the walls and windows of various buildings one of which was a booksellers'.  
 Motivated by a grim curiosity, feeling extremely nervous and vulnerable, she went in. She flicked through the rows of comic books, or "graphic novels" as people nowadays preferred to call them. They mostly seemed to be about sex, violence or both, with the sex often of a sado-masochistic kind. Their pages were populated by girls with very little on and frequently in a state of bondage. To her mind the girls looked Western, usually with fair hair and skin, although it was hard to be entirely sure because the Japanese like everyone else tended to see things in their own image and could not draw other races without giving them slightly Oriental features. She also knew that many Japanese women now dyed their hair blonde. Perhaps the artist had guessed that uncertainty about the matter would deflect criticism.
It was all very worrying.
 She gathered that Caucasian models were used heavily in advertising, porn films featuring white girls were popular, and that many Japanese women visited plastic surgeons to have their eyes made rounder and their noses more prominent, thinking that if they looked Western they would be more likely to attract a partner. She had always felt flattered that women like her were venerated in the Middle and Far East; it aroused in her a corresponding feeling of affection for those parts of the world, and prevented her being racist towards them. But what someone liked they could hurt, indeed destroy, if their affections went too far. And often they went hand-in-hand with a strong contempt and dislike. The reason why rapes of Western hostesses were not reported in the Japanese media was that the risk of such incidents was considered par for the course with women like that.  
 She knew that while finding foreigners exotic and interesting, many Japanese had little respect for them as people. In a recent newspaper article a British woman working for a multinational Japanese company had told how executives treated her at best with patronizing condescension, and at worst refused even to acknowledge her existence.  
 She came out of the shop to see that she had almost reached her destination. She strode up to the tall, narrow building with the neon sign over the entrance. It was here that one of the missing hostesses had worked. Bad publicity had forced the place to close for a while, but only a while, before reopening under its present name.
 As she disappeared inside the woman who had been following her down the street paused, compressing her lips slightly. She stood thinking for a moment or two then turned and walked quickly away.   
 Inside the club Caroline was greeted by the madam, who showed her to the changing rooms. A couple of minutes later, fully kitted out in her loose dress with its split skirt and her high heels, she returned to the bar, found an empty chair and parked herself on it. She tried to catch the eye of one of the customers, her gaze roaming the room until it settled on a group of men seated opposite her, talking and drinking.  
 She noted that several of them had one or two fingers amputated down to the knuckle joint. She knew what the disfigurement signified, for with her usual thoroughness she had made sure to find out whatever she could about the organisation to which they belonged.
They were Yakuza.  
 The custom of finger-cutting, or yubitsume, had its beginning in the gambling clubs from which the Yakuza originated; it meant the sword the gambler always carried with him, with which he might avenge his honour if he felt he had been cheated, could not be used. Nowadays it served one of two purposes. It was either a punishment for violations of the Yakuza code which were not quite serious enough to merit actual death or expulsion, or a mark of loyalty to one's oyabun (gangland mentor). Such was the power the oyabun enjoyed and the respect he commanded that it was just as likely to be the latter as the former. Whatever the reason for it, the act was seen as making the kobun, the protege, more dependent on his boss. It could be performed as an apology, in which case the finger was wrapped in fine cloth and presented to the oyabun. The more transgressions, such as cowardice, disobedience or betraying the gang's secrets to a rival organisation, were committed the more was amputated − the second joint of the same finger would be next, or the first of another. By a gentleman's agreement between the different Yakuza syndicates he would then be unable to join another group, remaining forever a shamed outcast.
 She also noted that one of them had a tattoo on his wrist. The vast majority of Yakuza were tattooed. The designs usually portrayed famous gods, folk heroes or animals; some were highly elaborate, covering the entire body. The traditional tattooing process was a lengthy and painful one, accomplished with a tool of bone or wood tipped with a cluster of tiny needles. Modern electric needles, where they were used, were much more comfortable, but the traditional method had the advantage that it was seen as a test of strength and endurance, proving one's courage and masculinity. It also of course marked you as belonging to the organisation, and thus as a misfit unable or unwilling to adapt oneself to Japanese society, but also performing an important and supposedly benign role within it. The Yakuza saw themselves as protecting the poor, the landless, the delinquents and outcasts found in any large society, who had often in the past made up a large part of its membership. The notion of the noble, compassionate misfit, inherited from among others the samurai warrior caste, was centuries-old. For the Yakuza, in whatever form, was an ancient organisation whose bosses hailed from a criminal line extending back to the early eighteenth century, as the family trees on the walls of their headquarters were intended to prove. Just how far it still adhered to its traditional values was a matter of opinion.
 Trying to catch their eye, Caroline didn't notice one of the customers get up and go to a door in the far wall, disappearing through it. 
 The door opened into a small office. There was a telephone  on the desk and he picked it up.
 "The gaijin woman you asked us to watch for. She's here, trying the same trick she played in Hong Kong."
 "So she did disregard my warning," said Yu Chen. "Then she is either very brave or very stupid. Very well, you know what to do."   
 In the bar, most of the customers had either already found girls or were busy chatting with one another. Caroline was still waiting patiently to be noticed when she sensed someone come up to her. "Hi," he smiled as she turned to speak to him, “I'm Joji Obara."
 For an instant she felt the anger freeze her blood. Then, knowing how she should respond, she quickly recovered her composure, just in time to prevent her feelings showing.  "Oh, are you?" she said with cool disinterest. "I thought you were in prison."
 If anything her regal aloofness only served to turn him on further. He proceeded to describe in detail what obscene cruelties he intended to perform on her, refusing to go away even though she clearly wasn't listening. What did you do with someone like this? How long was he going to stand here and spout all this twisted nonsense?
 Then one of the Yakuza got up from his chair and strode over to them, his face hard. Sensing his presence "Joji Obara" looked round and saw him, saw the finger with its missing joints. Immediately he shrank back, a shiver passing through his body, and the muscles of his face tightened in fear.  Without a word he scurried off, rapidly disappearing through the door of the club.
 "I am sorry about him," said the Yakuza. "Would you like to have a drink with me?"
 "That's very kind of you," Caroline beamed. "I fancy a Bacardi and Coke. How about you?"

It was already late when Chris Barrett's plane touched down at New Tokyo International Airport, the sun sinking slowly behind the airport buildings, delineating them sharply against a blood-red sky.
 His flight had been delayed for five hours at Hong Kong, the guy behind the China Airways front desk assuring him throughout with smiling patience that it would be leaving "very soon." It wasn't the delay itself which annoyed him − generally the Chinese were pretty efficient − but the way the man just sat there grinning blandly while Chris grew visibly more and more heated. Once he had booked into his guest house, the first thing Chris did was to ring a few of the top hotels in the capital − it would have to be the top ones − to find out if there was a Miss Caroline Kent, English, staying there. He got lucky with the last on his list. She wasn't in her room at the moment, but they could always make a search of the premises. Deciding this would take too long, Chris declined the offer with thanks. No, they didn't know where she'd gone. Thanking them again, he replaced the receiver and hurried off to catch the train into the city. He might have known she'd have got down to business straight away.   
 Hands in pockets, he trudged down the main street of Roppongi, politely turning down the occasional proposition from the heavily made-up girls in hot pants, spangled tops and high leather boots who stood in little groups hoping for custom. 
 He knew the clubs where most of the action was going on from the bad reputation they had acquired. One by one he paid them a visit, looking in through the windows and if he couldn't immediately see her going inside and wandering around among the clientele for a few minutes. In a couple of places, seeing the way the customers and staff were looking at him, he bought a drink and stood at the bar sipping it until has drained the glass, in order to look less suspicious. While he did so he glanced round the room in an innocent fashion, in the hope that she would come into view. And thought that if she wasn't here, he was losing valuable time. 
 Whenever he asked if anyone had seen her he got only blank looks. That either meant they genuinely knew nothing, or that they were covering something up.
 Altogether a couple of hours or so passed with no sight of Caroline. He told himself that if necessary he'd search every club and bar in the entire city, every place where you might meet someone for a drink and a chat. He only hoped that if he didn't find her, that did not mean the worst had already happened.  

TWENTY-EIGHT
His real name was Hidejo Katanaka. The drill was much the same as in Hong Kong, had she met the Queen etc. etc., with one or two variations. He continued to apologise profusely for the behaviour of "Joji Obara", his aim being to make it clear that she should be grateful for what he had done, in case she got stroppy later.  
 They had been chatting and drinking and laughing for hours, and Katanaka had by now concluded that there was no need to get her drunk, or spike her Bacardi. For money she would be happy to do whatever he desired; he knew the type well.
 He glanced at his watch; not long to go until midnight. They might as well make their move. "Would you like to come with me to my apartment for what is left of the evening?" he suggested. "It'd be nice."
"Yeah, sure," Caroline said brightly. "That's a great idea."  
 "And I would like to discuss some business with you," he told her. "There may be a prospect of...permanent employment."
"That's what I'm looking for."
"So," he said, standing up. "Shall we go?"
 She was about to rise when she sensed someone marching purposefully towards them, and frowned. She turned to see Chris Barrett.
Oh no, she thought, tensing with alarm.   
 Chris addressed Katanaka sternly. "I'd like a few words with the lady, if you don't mind." 
 At first Caroline continued to act the part. "Do I know you?" she said snootily.
 He bent to speak into her ear. "What do you think you're doing?" he hissed. 
 She squirmed away from him. "Look, we're just off, OK?  Whoever you are I haven't got time to talk to you now."
 Katanaka moved a few paces towards Chris. His face had tightened. "Please go away. We do not want any trouble."
 Barrett ignored him. "You think I hadn't worked out what you were up to? I can't believe how stupid you are sometimes. The danger you put yourself in. The worry you cause your family, your friends, all the people who care about you.  Several girls have been killed already. If you do come out of this alright you'll probably lose your job; Hennig's already given you one warning, though I see it went in one cloth ear and straight out the other. You never bloody learn, do you? You’re highly intelligent, and yet…”
 "I don't know what you're talking about," Caroline said in a tone of offended incredulity.
 "Please go away," Katanaka repeated, more harshly this time. "Go now or I will call the police."
 Two Yakuza who had been sitting at the side of the room got up and moved to flank Katanaka, their arms folded. They stared hard at Chris.  
 "I'm not going unless she's coming with me," he told them, quite prepared for a fight if necessary.  
 Caroline swallowed. There was no way she could go along with it if they started getting physical with him. 
 He turned back to her. "If you don't come now I'll bloody well drag you out of here. I'll thump you if I have to. You think you can handle anything, can't you? Well one day your luck will run out and you'll end up dead and rotting in some bloody cesspit like the one you're swimming in now. You're playing games with your life, you stupid little..."
 The customers were watching the confrontation uneasily. The owner of the bar came up and glanced uncertainly at Katanaka.
"Call the police," ordered the Yakuza.
"You do and I'll tell them exactly what's going on here," Chris said.
 They remained unmoved. In truth Chris had expected that.  Without proof of their crimes, or the political will to act, there was no chance of official action ever being taken against them.
Caroline opened her mouth to speak, then shut it again.  
Her resolve was wilting.
 "Leave now," ordered one of the heavies, taking a couple of steps towards Chris. 
 "She's working undercover," he said desperately. "She thinks you might be involved in the disappearance of the Western girls. She was trying to gain your confidence so you'd tell her all your secrets, and then expose you to the police."
 "No! That's not − " Caroline glanced appealingly at Katanaka, and froze in sudden shock. Grim as he looked at the situation, he showed no alarm at Chris' words.  
He knew. 
 She sprang to her feet and ran for the door. "Let's get out of here!" she shouted to Chris.  
 Katanaka hesitated, torn by indecision. He looked decidedly unhappy. Then he nodded to the heavies. They ran after Chris and Caroline, managing to grab them before they could reach the exit. Hopefully, the onlooking customers would think he was making what in the West was called a citizen's arrest.  If the two subsequently disappeared, he would have to rely on Yu Chen to protect him from any repercussions.  
 The man holding Chris Barrett was tough and powerfully built, but so was Chris. He struggled to break free, and the two of them staggered around the room. He broke away from the Yakuza and smashed his fist hard into the Japanese's face. The Yakuza's nose exploded redly and he lurched backwards from the impact, dazed.  
 Chris ran at the thug holding Caroline, who let her go in order to grapple with him.  
 Caroline's eyes fell on a half-empty bottle of wine on the table beside her. Snatching it up, she raised it high in the air and brought it crashing down on the head of the Yakuza as he closed with Chris. The bottle shattered and the wine ran into the Yakuza's eyes, blinding him. It mingled with the blood running from where one of the fragments of broken glass had cut his scalp. He let go of Chris to wipe it away and the Englishman delivered a powerful punch to his kidneys. He doubled up, then keeled over and crashed to the floor in agony. The customers leaped from their chairs and ran out, anxious not to be caught up in the fray. 
 As several more Yakuza rushed towards her Caroline brandished the broken bottle threateningly, jabbing it viciously in their direction, the look in her eyes decidedly frightening. They hesitated.  
 They backed away a few paces. Then she gasped as someone grabbed her from behind, wrapping their arms around her body.  It was Katanaka. Her arms pinned to her sides, she dropped the bottle with a scowl. Twisting her round, Katanaka thrust her towards two of the heavies, barking out an order. They grabbed her and bundled her towards a door in the far wall.  
 Katanaka turned to see Chris snatch up Caroline's broken bottle and retreat into a corner, waving it about menacingly. One of the remaining two Yakuza tried to sidle round him.      
 They didn't want to hang around too long if they could help it; the police would soon be here. Katanaka took one last look at the proceedings, then ran.   
 The other Yakuza ducked under the bottle and threw himself at Chris' legs, bringing him down. His colleague grabbed the bottle and snatched it from Barrett's grasp. They hauled him to his feet and one of them punched him savagely in the stomach, following up with a couple of blows to the head. Chris folded, gasping for breath, his head spinning from the force of the punches. They grabbed him and hustled him from the room, down a corridor and out a back door into the yard behind the building. They were just in time to see Katanaka's car already shooting off into the distance. They could just make out Caroline Kent and the other two bodyguards in the back. 
 Letting go of Chris, who crashed to the ground in a heap, they made off at top speed, anxious to put as much distance as possible between the premises and themselves before the police arrived.

TWENTY-NINE
The following morning
Inspector Toshiro Obeiji faced Chris Barrett stonily across his expansive desk at Tokyo Central Police Headquarters. "We have no proof the Yakuza kidnapped your friend, Barrett-san." 
 "Then where is she?" Chris pointed out, exasperated. "I've told you everything that happened. If there are aliens going around whisking people off to Mars with tractor beams or whatever, it'd be a bit of a coincidence if they happened to do it just at that moment."
 Obeiji's expression didn't change at his sarcasm. The policeman just kept staring at him impassively, blinking from time to time behind his massive thick-framed spectacles but otherwise showing no sign of life or movement. He could have been a concrete statue. 
 "You don't want too much of this kind of thing," Chris sighed. "Eventually people will start taking more notice of it and demand that something gets done."
 "I must point out that no-one actually saw them take her away," Obeiji said reasonably. The punters had fled by then.
"But it's obvious they did," Chris protested.  
 "There must be admissible evidence. No-one has come forward with any, so far."  
"They're too scared of the Yakuza," Chris sighed.
 Suddenly his anger began to mount. "They may be keeping her as a sex slave. She's probably going through God knows what kind of experience right now, and you're just − " 
 He knew the tendency Orientals had not to admit to being wrong, their almost mortal fear of losing face. He guessed they would be even less likely to co-operate if he were aggressive. The best way of dealing with them was to be calm and reasonable.
 "Look," he said gently. "I know you don't like to get on the wrong side of these people. I know what she was doing was dangerous. But she wasn't a prostitute. She was working undercover because she wanted to expose the whole racket."  He didn't add, "because you won't bloody well do anything about it yourself".  
 "She may be unbelievably stupid at times but she is brave, and she was trying to help people. And whether or not she should have been doing it, you don't want the bad publicity the case will give you. If I know her father, he'll make a hell of a fuss about it. It'll be turned into a diplomatic incident." MI6 were on the tip of his tongue but he decided just in time that it might be better, for reasons of security, not to reveal Caroline's links with them.   
 Obeiji frowned. It was hard to tell what he was thinking, not least because Chris didn't like to look too hard at his flat, inscrutable face, sensing it would be interpreted as rudeness. Finally he spoke, in a different tone of voice from the one he had used before. "I would agree that the matter undoubtedly looks highly suspicious for the Yakuza. We will certainly be making further enquiries."
 "You'd better make them pretty quickly," Chris said. "Now they've kidnapped her they'll either keep her for sex or  simply kill her. Whatever happens they won't let her go. She knows too much."
 He frowned. "I'm not sure why they did it. They can't want her body that badly." It was best to prompt Obeiji with comments since otherwise the Japanese would not, he reckoned, be particularly forthcoming.  
"It does seem strange to me," Obeiji agreed.  
 Chris sensed the message had got through to him, and he went on in a conversational tone, feeling better disposed towards the man. "They must be in trouble now, having gone so far as to kidnap her," he mused. "They may think they've got nothing to lose, and keep hold of her for a while, assuming she was right in thinking they were in that line of business." 
 He paced up and down, voicing his thoughts as they occurred to him as a way of nudging Obeiji. "If they want her for sex, like the other girls, they won't send her to Hong Kong, not after she exposed their activities there. And presumably you'll be investigating all the likely places in this country. Is there anywhere else in this part of the world where a woman would be taken if someone wanted to use her as a sex slave?"
 Obeiji thought. "Yes. There is Thailand, for one. There are other places too. We will certainly make enquiries there.  But unless a connection to them can be proved, there will be nothing we can do."
 Chris looked appealingly at him. "She's a friend. You'll understand I don't like to think of her being raped on a daily basis." She had enough of that sort of thing with Fouasi, he thought grimly. Could she stand a repetition of that ordeal?
 "We will keep a watch on the airports and harbours," Obeiji promised him. "We will search both for her and for the people who may have abducted her."  
 He'd said "may," Chris noted. He still didn't want to commit himself.  
 "Right," sighed the Englishman, bounding to his feet and extending his hand to Obeiji, who returned the gesture cordially enough. "I'd better be getting back to my guest house." He fished a scrap of paper from his notebook and scribbled down the name and number of the establishment. "Please let me know as soon as anything happens."

The house, which was decorated in the traditional Japanese style, stood within a large, tidily kept garden dotted with clusters of brightly-coloured flowers. In the distance the snow-capped peak of Mount Fujiyama rose above the trees.
 In the living room, Hidejo Katanaka was making a very important phone call. He had had orders to look out for the Kent girl, in case she was still poking her nose into their business, and if he found her seize her and bring her to his master. Then her friend had come along and started causing trouble, wrecking the whole thing. Once he realised she was in danger of slipping through his fingers he had been forced to act, on the spur of the moment. His master did not take kindly to failure on the part of his subordinates, and had ways of punishing it.  
 He had panicked. But now, back at his country villa, he'd had time to think, to assess where he stood.  
 Caroline Kent lay on the floor at his feet, hands and feet tied. A plaster had been stuck over her mouth. Her steely blue eyes gazed up at him with a look of wary defiance. His men hovered nearby, all the time keeping a close watch on her.  
 "Your orders were to bring her to you, alive," he was saying into the phone. "I did not wish to fail you."
 "You were wise," said the person to whom he was speaking. Nonetheless, the man was obviously displeased at the way things had turned out. "But this is not good."  
"We did not know her friend would turn up and make trouble," Katanaka said.
"Of course not." 
 "But people will ask questions," Katanaka went on. "There will be an enquiry. What am I going to do?"
 He certainly did not want to serve a lengthy jail sentence.  Nor did he want to remain in hiding, forever fleeing the police whenever they looked like getting too close to him.
"Do not be afraid," said the other reassuringly. "Our master will protect you."
 "What can he do? There is already too much publicity about the Western hostesses and what is happening to them. The authorities will have to do something."
 "Let me discuss this with him. I will call you back shortly." Katanaka heard the line go dead. He replaced the receiver, walked shakily to a chair and collapsed into it, breathing hard.  

Thousands of miles away in London, a phone rang in an office and long, bony fingers reached for the receiver, picked it up.  
"Yu Chen."
 The Chinaman listened as his associate explained why he was calling. "Katanaka demands protection. He will cause trouble if we cannot guarantee it."
 Yu Chen was silent for a few moments, his free hand stroking the animal nestling in his lap. He came to his decision. 
 "I have no time to waste on protecting such criminal scum. Do you understand? Besides, he has served his purpose. I have no further need of him."  
 "It is understood." The line went dead, and Yu Chen returned once again to his work.  

Caroline was getting hungry. "Mmmmpfff," she said pointedly.
 Katanaka ignored her. He was pacing up and down the room, hands clasped behind his back, his facial muscles knotted with tension. From the wall his bodyguards looked on impassively. 
 He almost jumped clean out of his skin on hearing the phone ring. "Yes?" he answered, his heart thumping. 
 "We can get you out of the country. Remain where you are for the moment. It will take the police a while to get to you; we should be there before them."
"And the girl?"
"We'll take care of her."
 Katanaka glanced round at his men. He explained to them what had happened, instructing them to transfer their loyalty to one or other of the sub-bosses until such time as it was safe for him to return.  
 He knew they would obey the injunction, and just as readily return to his service as soon as he reappeared. Such was the oyabun-kobun (literally, in English, "father-child") relationship, a manifestation of the age-old concept of giri, which held the Yakuza together. Not easily translatable into English, the term loosely meant obligation or a strong sense of duty. It was a concept especially Japanese. 
 As well as kill when instructed to do so by their mentors, the kobun or ordinary gang members were expected to act as human shields for their oyabun in gunfights with other gangs, take the blame and go to prison for crimes the oyabun had committed, and sacrifice the lives or wellbeing of their own families for his sake. And an old adage still popular among gang members goes: "If the boss says that a passing crow is white, you must agree, even if it is black."
His fears to some extent becalmed, Katanaka sat down to wait. 
"Grmpffff," said Caroline hopefully. Katanaka continued to ignore her.
 After what seemed an astonishingly short time they heard the car turn onto the forecourt of the villa and then pull up outside the door. One of the bodyguards went to open it, the rest remaining grouped around Katanaka protectively.  
 One by one the men entered the room. Katanaka looked up at them expectantly.
 They halted, forming a line facing the five bodyguards.  Katanaka frowned, sensing danger. The vibrations emanating from them, and their body language, were all wrong.  
 He saw them take the guns from their pockets. Caught completely by surprise, the bodyguards were a second too slow in reacting. The second their fingers touched the butts of their own handguns a bullet embedded itself in each man's heart, followed closely by another.  
 Katanaka's instincts cut in just in time to save him. He dived on the floor, sprawling across the prone body of Caroline Kent. Whipping out his gun, he rammed it against the side of her head. "Get back or I kill her!" he shouted. They wanted her alive, he knew that.  
 Slowly, the men backed away. Katanaka hooked an arm through one of Caroline's and pulled her up with him as he scrambled to his feet, keeping his gun aimed at her skull. "Against the wall!"
 The men retreated until their backs were touching the wall. They didn't take their eyes from him, and although they couldn't fire for fear of hitting Caroline, they kept a firm hold on their guns. Katanaka began to sidle towards the door with his captive, Caroline's bound feet dragging on the carpet. "Don't try to follow me," he warned.  
 Feeling unsafe with his back to them, he turned to face them. He retreated slowly towards the door, reaching behind him until his fingers found the handle. He turned it, yanked the door open, and began backing towards the car. 
 Hurriedly he opened the door and thrust Caroline inside.  There was no time to untie her. She sprawled across the back seat, and he got behind the wheel, fastening his seatbelt. He inserted the keys in the ignition and twisted. 
 The engine rumbled into life. As the car shot away down the drive he could hear them running from the house, firing at the tyres in a bid to stop him. He turned onto the main road and roared off in the direction of Tokyo.
 He reached for his mobile phone and with one hand dialled the number of the emergency services. "This is Hidejo Katanaka. I have something to tell you." He had no option now but to throw himself on the mercy of the police.  
 In a moment the astonished switchboard operator had put him through to Inspector Obeiji. He gabbled out an explanation. "I have the girl. But hurry, they are after me."
 He broke off. Through the rear view mirror he could see the enemy car racing in pursuit, a couple of the men leaning out of the windows and firing at them. And they were gaining fast.
"Dai Sang," he shouted into the phone. "Shang...Shanghai..."
 Whatever happened he would make sure his former associates paid for their treachery.
 He put away the phone and concentrated on his driving. On the back seat Caroline was struggling furiously with her bonds, desperate to find out what was happening. She felt one wrist start to slip free.    
 The cords came away, and she ripped the plaster from over her lips. "What's going on?" she shouted.
Katanaka didn't answer.  
She fumbled with the ropes around her ankles.
 The car gave a lurch as a bullet found its mark and one of the tyres burst. It started to slow down, veering crazily from side to side.
 Shaking off the last coil of rope, Caroline flung herself at the door and fiddled with the handle. 
 Glancing out of the window, she saw that the car's violent lurching had brought it almost onto the grass verge. Seizing her chance, she flung the door open and hurled herself out.  She landed half on the road and half on the grass.
 The car lurched clean off the other side of the road and ground to a shuddering halt. Katanaka scrambled out and ran towards a small wood. The pursuing car screeched to a stop and its occupants piled out, two of them making for Caroline while the other three went after Katanaka.
 The Yakuza had almost reached the cover of the wood when one of them shot him in the back, killing him instantly. Seeing him twist and fall, they ran on towards the body, intending to make absolutely sure he was dead.
 Caroline lay at the side of the road, stunned and bruised, her hands and face bleeding from several nasty cuts. She lifted her head as the two Japanese approached, blinking dazedly at them. They surrounded her and as she clambered shakily to her feet, far too woozy to resist, gripped her by the arms and hustled her off towards their waiting car.


THIRTY
Chris sat on the bed in his room at the guest house and sighed. He knew that if he told Edward or Margaret what had happened the effect on Margaret in particular would be devastating. He also knew they would have to find out sooner or later.
Oh God, he thought, wincing. Oh God.   
 Eventually he got wearily to his feet and went out in search of a phone box. You couldn't get an outside line from your room and what he had to say was too private for the call to be made from one of the row of booths in the hotel foyer.
 He spotted a kiosk, waited for the person using it to finish, and then with a deep breath took the plunge. 
"Have you managed to find my daughter yet?" began Edward cheerfully.
 "Er, not exactly," said Chris, the tone of his voice making clear something was wrong.
There was a moment's silence.  
 "Don't tell me," Kent said at length. "She's gone and bloody disappeared again."
"Er − " began Chris.
 Edward's voice was unnaturally calm, and he spoke slowly and clearly with each word precisely enunciated. He sounded as if he was speaking through gritted teeth, but Chris knew the anger wasn't directed at him. "Tell me exactly what happened."
 Chris sighed. "I'm afraid it looks like the Yakuza have got her − the Japanese Mafia. She obviously got upset about those girls disappearing in Japan. The ones who were rescued from Hong Kong after a tip-off to the police − that was her. It seemed there was a white slave trade going on involving Western women, and run by the Yakuza and the Triads, and she was trying to expose it."  
 In the living room of his Surrey home Edward sprang up like a jack-in-the-box, the receiver falling from his hand. His eyes were bulging and a vein on his forehead stood out redly, throbbing and pulsing.
"WHAT?" he shouted.  
 Caroline's mother came running in. "What is it?" she asked fearfully.
 Impatiently Edward motioned her to silence. He retrieved the phone. "Still there? No, don't worry, I'm quite alright.  Just keep in touch and let us know if you learn anything.  Cheers, Chris."  
 Slowly he put the phone down and turned towards his wife, shaking his head in disbelief. "Not again."
"What?" Margaret Kent demanded.
Edward sighed, and shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "What do you think?"
Margaret stared at him for a second, then dropped to the floor in a dead faint.
    
*

Edward had not dared tell his wife that white slavers were involved in Caroline's disappearance. That'd finish her right off, he thought with a shudder. He concentrated entirely on trying to establish where Caroline might be at the moment and how he could get her back.
 His first thought was to call on Keith McCandless, the veteran journalist who had studied the white slave trade in detail and whom he had turned to for help over the Fouasi affair. But McCandless, although he had written on the slave trade in the Far East, had on the occasion of their meeting confessed that he was now "out of it", and Edward settled instead on Derek Crossman, a columnist with one of the national dailies who was writing a book on the hostess business and the dangers it involved. Crossman was a very different kettle of fish from McCandless; in his late thirties, he spoke with a London accent and entertained political views rather more to the left than Edward's. He lived in a modernised Tudor cottage near Guildford from which he commuted to London by car. Having arranged a meeting through the newspaper Edward drove over to see him the following day. The two men sat down with a glass of whisky each in Crossman's living room, to see if they could put the world to rights.
 Crossman sighed ruefully when told the story behind Caroline's disappearance. "It's been recognised as a problem in the past. In 1984 the Japanese police set up a special office to deal with illegal women workers. The initiative didn't last. The politicians either weren't interested or had a stake in the business themselves. From time to time someone tries to do something about it but it always comes to nothing; there's too much corruption, too many people with connections to the Yakuza."
 "And there's no chance of getting these stupid little idiots to change their minds?" By "stupid little idiots" Edward meant the hostesses themselves. 
 Crossman shook his head sadly, disbelievingly. "It's not something I can easily understand. They're sensible, level-headed girls most of the time; but as hostesses they behave totally differently, take incredible risks. The way the world is now, we look for kicks wherever we can find them, not caring about the consequences. It's because popular culture is becoming so stale and boring and because the way society is, so many people with different aims and priorities treading on each others' toes, creates pressures we're desperate to escape from.
 "There's been a thriving sex trade in the Far East for hundreds of years. And white women are in demand there, as they are in places like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. It used to be Americans in particular; American women are often well-endowed, and they have this statuesque look which seems to appeal to the Japanese especially. Now it seems to be British girls they're lusting after, mainly. But in the eighties the Yakuza were operating a scam whereby white American women were lured to Japan by false talent agencies on the West Coast, which were really fronts for the Yakuza. Some went knowing full well what was going on and didn't mind being exploited; others were totally innocent.  
 "The agents would place ads for singers and dancers in the entertainment press, designed to appeal to the out-of-work, down on her luck actress or singer. Some of the magazines contained listings for cattle call auditions, as well as for nude modelling and porn photo sessions. They capitalised on the dreams of people who were young, ambitious, naive, and therefore vulnerable.
 "When they got there they found they were expected to work as hostesses or prostitutes − sometimes it amounts to the same thing − or to dance naked, in clubs owned by the Yakuza.  Their passports and airline tickets were confiscated, so it became very difficult to get out of the country, and they received very little money, or none at all, for the work they did. There were cases of victims suffering attempted rapes. All in all it was a ghastly experience. 
 "When they finally managed to return home, they usually got little compensation for what they'd been through. It was difficult to trace the agents and in any case, by law they had to have knowingly sent the women to houses of prostitution and that was always difficult to prove.     
 "There were a number of civil suits launched. One woman sued the agency when she returned to America and got a small out-of-court settlement. It didn't stop them continuing in business.  
 "Another woman filed a $3.5 million lawsuit against her American agent, his counterpart in Japan, and the Secretary of State, who was charged because the Embassy in Japan refused to help her return home even though it was known the club where she worked was a Yakuza operation. They just told her she was on her own and they could do nothing. That was in 1982. I don't know the outcome of the case. 
 "The police in Los Angeles and other places on the West Coast knew it was going on, but try as they might they couldn't stop the racket. It was netting a lot of money for certain people in high places − people with underworld connections − which could be why the American government was reluctant to act. I think they didn't want to offend powerful and influential figures. And it was difficult to raise the profile of the issue because only a few of the victims came forward. The rest were simply too scared of reprisals to testify.  
 "You wouldn't think it could happen. But by 1982 the number of victims in Los Angeles alone had run into hundreds.  Altogether the Los Angeles Police Department received over 50 complaints from victims of the trade, and I bet there were plenty more with stories to tell if only they'd been prepared to sing. The demand for Caucasian women in Japan was, and is, fantastic."
"And does this still go on?" Edward asked.
 Crossman frowned. "I'm not sure. The Yakuza have realised it's more profitable, and a good deal safer, to take on Western girls − mainly Europeans rather than Americans − who actually want to be hostesses and don't have to be hoodwinked or coerced. That's certainly the case in Tokyo, but I don't know about the other big cities, like Kyoto − where some of the American victims in the 80s had their experiences − or Osaka. Prostitution certainly goes on there.
 "There's that Patterson girl who disappeared in Osaka after going to work as a dancer there, and has just been found dead outside a shady apartment with her neck broken. It may mean that the trade's been revived. Why they should do that when it's much better to take on hostesses who are willing to do the job and who can net you money by just talking to a guy, which doesn't alarm the law so much, I don't know...unless they specifically wanted an American for some reason."
 "One thing we should remember is that what's happening to the white girls is only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the victims of the sex trade in the East are poor Third World women and kids who are forced into prostitution, either in their own countries or abroad." Edward's eyes narrowed a little; he suspected he was going to get a PC lecture.
 He thought he ought to give some kind of response. "Is that so," he said interestedly. 
 "It certainly is. These days most of the trade is controlled by the Yakuza with the help of the local crime syndicates in the various countries. It affects Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore. Hong Kong's also an important centre of operations. Some Brazilian women have also been sent to Japan by the Yakuza, who operate through the Japanese community in Brazil. They've moved abroad, operating on an international scale, and are making millions of dollars from the business.
 "They used to run prostitution junkets throughout the region, organising holidays for Japanese businessmen who wanted to spend their time drinking and whoring. The worst of that's been dealt with now, because of a clean-up campaign by religious groups. The whole thing had become a bit too overt for comfort. But they're still involved in exporting young women and girls around the region, and particularly to Japan, or  − to a lesser extent these days − Europe and America where Oriental girls tend to be regarded as sex goddesses.  
 "In the East they force young women into prostitution, arrange "mail order" marriages and traffic in pornography. Generally the victims are poor immigrants from the countryside, sold as minors on the black market by their parents so they have less mouths to feed. In the Philippines alone, in the mid-80s, there were over 100,000 women working as "hospitality girls" − that's prostitutes serving the tourist industry."  
 Crossman stiffened with anger. "Some of the girls are as young as ten. And they're sometimes branded on the thigh to show who owns them...like cattle.
 "Some women go off willingly, thinking they're actually earning money for their family by doing it. They tell their folks they're working as receptionists or something. 
 “By pretending to be "talent agencies" the syndicates lure poor women to Japan with the promise of a good job, forging their passports and faking their visas for them, but when they get there they find themselves forced to work in bars and brothels as prostitutes, hostesses, strippers, dancers."  
"Same tactic as with the American girls," Edward commented.
 "But on a much bigger scale," Crossman reminded him. He went back to his theme. "Some of them, if they're lucky enough to have a good boss who pays them well, want to stay, because they'll be making more money than they would at home, and some of it does go back to their families, but most aren't so lucky. They often receive less than a Japanese prostitute would. Most of the money they make ends up in the hands of pimps.
 "They're generally treated brutally, packed into tiny cramped little rooms where they spend virtually all their time. They're often unable to speak the local language which doesn't help them."
"Why does all this go on?" Edward asked, genuinely saddened.  
 "It goes on because of the effects of the Third World debt.  The governments in the region promote it as they promoted the sex tours, either openly or by not doing anything about them, because it boosts economies which would otherwise be a little poorer. That's the reason why the police can never get enough support from the government when they try to deal with the problem. Then there’s simple greed, simple lust.”
 "All I want to do is to get my daughter back," said Edward. “I’m not concerned with the politics of it. Where do you think they've taken her?"
 "I've no idea. You see, because it doesn't happen to white European girls, not in the same way as it does the non-whites, there's nothing really for the police to go on.  They've no track record of dealing with such cases. I doubt if they've gone to the same place as the Asians. A European would stand out more there, because they aren't usually the victims in this business. And there'd be more of a diplomatic fuss." This last was said scathingly.  
"But we know it happens," Edward persisted.  
"Undoubtedly it happens. But not that often."  
 "The Asian girls don't really have a choice," Crossman pointed out. "The Western hostesses did."
 "My daughter didn't," Kent pointed out. He leaned back to reflect. "The question is, who is it worse for; an Asian girl because they suffer from it all the time, or a white girl because she's not used to it?"
 Crossman stared at him as if suddenly struck by something he'd never previously considered, then smiled. "An interesting point," he conceded.  
 "If we can stop the sex trade, we can help the white girls as well as the yellow ones."
 "In the sense of nabbing the people who are doing it, yes.  But I doubt they will somehow. As I've said, it's too different a kettle of fish. You won't find her, or any of the other missing girls, in a Kisaeng house..." He explained what the term meant. "Or anywhere like that. This is a case of genuine kidnapping, one that can't be disguised as anything else."
 Edward returned home to find Margaret lying on the sofa staring up at the ceiling, her only movement the fitful fluttering of her eyelids. She seemed to have aged visibly overnight. Her face looked more lined, the streaks of grey in her hair more prominent.
"Did you have any luck?" she asked.
 He related all that Crossman had told him. "I also had a call from the police, via the office."
"And?"
 "They said they were doing all they can. We've just got to wait for news."
"I see," Margaret sighed.
 Perhaps it would be better, she was wondering, if she thought and acted as if Caroline was already dead. It seemed unlikely that her daughter could go on surviving so many brushes with fate and to continue to hope for the best wasn't worth the constant worry, the frenzied churning of her insides.  
 But could she really accept it? Writing Caroline off like that seemed so cruel and callous, somehow. And could she cope with the crushing sense of loss, the overwhelming black depression?
 "I'm not going to give up on her," she vowed, sitting up sharply. "Not until we know she's dead."
 "Aye," murmured Edward, reaching down to clasp her hand gently. "That's the spirit."
 They said nothing for a while. "If she is gone, what then?" Margaret asked.
 "Just be glad that we brought into the world two great kids.  And remember that they wouldn't want us to go to pieces over it. Because I'm sure they wouldn't."
"You think we're going to get over it as easily as that?"
 Edward sighed. "Probably not." He let his head droop briefly, then it snapped up as he felt the anger surge through him. "If she's dead I'm going to spend the rest of my life hunting down the people who did it. We owe it to her."
 "I can't believe Fate has done this to us," Margaret groaned. "Why? Is there some special reason why she should keep on disappearing like this, making us suffer so much?"
 "I don't know," Edward sighed. "But one thing's certain, I'm going out there. Do you want to come?"
 Margaret frowned. "I don't know. Something tells me it might just be better to wait."
"Well, you decide," grunted her husband. 
"You go if you want to."
 He lowered herself onto the sofa beside her. "I think I'd prefer to be here with you. You're going to need it."
"No, it's all right," she insisted.
 They stayed sitting there indecisively, her hand clasped in his, for some time before Edward glanced at the clock and saw how late it was. "Well, I'm going to bed," he announced. "I don't know about you." 
 She followed him upstairs. There they lay perfectly still, saying nothing, in each others' arms, feeling a curious sensation of calm and peace. Perhaps it was because Caroline had been in situations like this before, and survived them, that it wasn't screwing them up as much as they thought.  Whatever the reason, they knew at heart there was no more to be gained from worrying. They would go through the days that followed in a solemn, mechanical, zombie-like manner, unable to drum up much enthusiasm for anything. But they would not suffer; only wait. 

THIRTY-ONE
As Chris was shown into Obeiji's office the inspector rose from his seat and grasped Barrett’s outstretched hand warmly.  He gestured to the Englishman to sit down. 
 "You said you had some news," Chris opened, his voice trembling a little with nervous excitement.
 "Katanaka gave the name of the owner of a shipping company based in China, in Shanghai." Obeiji described the Yakuza’s call to his office. "The authorities there have been investigating."
"And?" Barrett prompted eagerly. 
 "I am afraid there is nothing to report," Obeiji told him solemnly. "They have already searched everywhere, made enquiries of various people, and have found no clues."
That was quick, thought Chris.  
 "They will continue to investigate. But they say their resources are strained and they do not have the time or the personnel to look fully into the matter. Crime is a serious problem in China these days."
 Chris frowned. The Shanghai police spokesman had virtually contradicted himself. For a police force whose resources were limited, they had done well in investigating and discounting all possible leads in such a short time.
"But they did check out the company's premises?" 
 "Yes. They found no clues." Chris' eyebrows lifted. He was sure Katanaka hadn't mentioned it for nothing.  
 There was something in Obeiji's manner which struck him. The man sounded apologetic, which might have been expected, but at the same time there was a clear hint that he was not entirely convinced his Chinese counterparts were telling the truth. Chris was meant to notice it and feel placated.
 "Is there anything more you can do?" Barrett asked. "If she's in China, then I suppose it's out of your hands now."
 "The case will remain open for the time being," Obeiji assured him. "Who knows, perhaps there are still clues to be found in Japan. And you could always contact the Ministry of Justice in Beijing."
 Chris had a suspicion that if he tried to pursue the matter that way he would find someone or other putting obstacles in his way. He said nothing for a moment, then seemed to come to a decision. "The owner of the shipping company. What's his name?" 
 Obeiji hesitated briefly, then smiled. "Since the matter is now, it seems, more the concern of the Chinese than of ourselves, I suppose there would be nothing improper about my telling you. His name is Dai Sang. It is also the name of the company." 
"What do you know about him?"
 "Other than that he is a very wealthy man, and his firm one of the biggest in the Far East, nothing." The policeman gave him a quizzical look. "Are you intending to conduct your own investigation, Barrett-san?"
"I'm just curious," Chris said. 
 Obeiji clearly wasn't taken in. "If you do," he said darkly, "you would be advised to take care."
"Like I said, I was just being curious." 
 Cordially Chris took his leave of Obeiji and returned to the guest house, where he went straight to his room and threw himself down on the bed, tucking his hands behind his head.  He sighed long and hard.
 It was obvious there was something funny going on. Someone very powerful, and with links to the slave traders, was obstructing the investigation at the Chinese end. Unless he was going to do it all himself, he reckoned he didn't stand much chance of finding Caroline. And what could he do? In a culture where nobody would admit to doing anything wrong, or having been forced to, through fear of losing face he wasn't likely to get much co-operation.  
 He decided it would help if he had some idea of how Caroline had been operating, what she knew about the slave traders and how their organisation functioned. He didn't trust the authorities in either Tokyo or Beijing.  
 Maybe he'd have better luck in Hong Kong. Caroline must have had some contact with the police authorities there. It had been in one of their cars that she’d been seen going to Kowloon Airport.
 Before he went out he rang Edward to let him know what he had found. "That's great, if we're getting somewhere," Kent said. "But I want to be out there myself. Shall we arrange to meet somewhere?"
 "We could. But if there have to be any strong-arm tactics, leave them to me OK? I'm a good deal younger and fitter. You nearly got yourself killed last time; more than once, from what I hear."
 Edward laughed. "I don't want to repeat the experience if I can help it."
 "Good. And another thing, the trick you played to get her back last time; I don't think it could be pulled off again.  These guys will be suspicious right from the start, because of what happened to Fouasi."
"You're probably right," Edward conceded with regret. 
 Chris asked hesitantly how Margaret was. "As well as can be expected," Edward sighed.
"Well I'll keep you posted," Chris promised.  
 It wasn't just Caroline he owed it to. The Kents had always been pleasant and kind to him, and he was distressed to think of the anguish they must be going through.
 I won't let them down, he thought savagely. And went off to book his flight to Hong Kong.  

The last thing Caroline had known for a while was being bundled into the car, the two hoods sandwiching her between them, then her sleeve forced up and the point of a hypo pressed to her wrist. Resignedly she let herself sink into oblivion as the drug took effect. 
 Her consciousness when it started to revive had an unreal, dreamlike quality, and she wondered vaguely if she had gone to heaven, the drug having been lethal. Her surroundings were dimly visible through a swimming blurry haze; she could just make out a table, a chair, and something on the table which might be a computer. Gradually the haze cleared and she found her senses functioning normally, although all power of movement had gone. 
Alive, then. But for how long, she thought morbidly.  
 She was sitting slumped on a couch in a room identically furnished to the one where she'd awoken after being chloroformed in Honkers. It might for all she knew be the same room, there was just no way of telling. 
 The door opened and a man came in. Immediately an indescribable chill travelled through her, before she had barely begun to take in the sight of him. She couldn't explain the sensation and could only presume its origin was subconscious.  
 She supposed he was Chinese but he was taller than most of his race, fully six feet with high, slightly hunched shoulders. He was impeccably dressed in dark business suit and tie and could have been any ordinary, respectable Beijing businessman. He moved to the desk with a strange catlike gait, feet padding softly on the thick carpet, and took his seat.
 It struck her that he might pass fairly easily for a Westerner. There was only a slight Mongoloid slant to his eyes, and his thinning hair was mousy rather than black, no different from that of most people in the West. The skin of his high domed forehead was smooth and yellowish-brown. 
 He had one of those faces that looked like a mask. It was a face, she couldn't help thinking, of evil, but there was something else there too; a wisdom older than the sky and the sea. Altogether the sight of him totally fazed her. It was with some considerable effort that she finally managed to speak. 
"Huh-huh-huh-hello," she gasped. 
 She felt her composure start to return. "Excuse me if I don't get up," she said politely. "Someone seems to have drugged me."
 When the Chinaman, if that was what he was, answered her it was in a voice like the rattling of ice cubes. It sent a shudder of primeval fear down Caroline's spine. "If you remember, I warned you about interfering in my affairs."  
 "So that was you. Don't think I'm not grateful. I guess I just can't help...interfering."  
 "So it would seem. That you remain so beautifully intact is nothing short of miraculous. Perhaps you bear a charmed life."
 "Perhaps," she said. She narrowed her eyes, scrutinising him keenly. "Haven't I seen you before somewhere? You've certainly got the kind of face one doesn't forget easily."
"I am Yu Chen."
 "And you're a businessman or something like that, aren't you?"
"That is correct."
 "Specialising in pimping, it would seem," she snapped, her anger rising to the surface.
 "For special reasons of my own. Fortunately, you have insufficient evidence with which to confront the police. And it would certainly be most unfortunate for you and your family if you did approach them. Please forgive me for making what must seem like vulgar threats. It is important that those who seek to obstruct my plans are deterred from doing so by whatever means necessary."
 She was intrigued by the stilted, precise way in which Yu Chen spoke English. It tickled her but at the same time had a disorientating effect, making her feel she had somehow been transported back a hundred years in time. Had he learnt his patter reading John Buchan, or someone else from that era?
 Yu Chen steepled his long bony fingers. "You have been in my power once before, though only briefly. This time you will be staying with me until I decide your fate. Since it seems you are determined to put yourself in my way, I must think very carefully as to what to do about you. Perhaps you have some suggestions?"
"You could let me go," she said brightly.  
 Yu Chen didn't exactly smile, but the expression on his face changed sufficiently to give a suggestion of amusement. "Your humour conceals your fear," he told her.
How right you are, she thought ruefully.  
 "Let me assure you of one thing. I do not wish to harm you if it can be avoided."
"Thankyou," said Caroline graciously.
 "You are a worthy adversary, Miss Kent." Caroline inclined her head in appreciation, smiling smugly. 
 "But I think it only fair to point out the dangers in opposing me. I am quite prepared to kill if it appears to be necessary."
 A note of curiosity entered his voice. "You are not from the police, nor is the white slave trade something with which Western intelligence would be concerned at the present time. What disposed you to involve yourself in the first place?"
 "I take a dim view of people who get a sick thrill out of kidnapping and torturing Western women. And not only Western ones, I'll admit." She thought of the little girl in the glass-walled room, the girl whose eyes had been calling for help. Calling out to her.
 Yu Chen smiled. "The Japanese have this strange, ambivalent relationship with the West. They admire its culture, its women; and yet consider the way they treated their white prisoners during the Second World War. Sometimes the liking and the hatred are combined in a way that is more disturbing than such atrocities. It is often necessary to restrain them.  But none of the girls have been tortured, believe me. I have done my best to ensure they suffer as little physical damage as possible. Any of my subordinates who disobey that order live to regret it. Though only for a short time − live, that is."
"You want the girls in one piece, then?"
 "When my, ah, colleagues have finished with them they will be returned safely to their families." Caroline saw Yu Chen's face tighten. "You Westerners have always thought of me as a murderous butcher. I assure you I am not."
 "You've got a reputation, then?" she asked curiously. "I doubt if anyone in the West had heard of you before China started opening up."
"That is something I will explain later," Yu Chen said.  
 "It has always been my way to avoid unnecessary suffering," he went on. He seemed to be quite sincere, and she felt growing within her a curious attraction for him. "I have only once directly attempted to kill a Western woman, and that was because it is sometimes necessary to make clear to one's enemies the consequences of their actions. Like you, she was something of an adventuress; she tended to meddle in things that need not concern her.
 "You do not wish to know what I tried to do to her. I understand she survived the experience; you may not be so lucky.
 "I do not make war against women, Miss Kent. Not normally.  But you have chosen to make war against me. Whatever happens as a result of this meeting, I can tell you one thing. If your interference in my designs continues, it may not be possible to guarantee your safety."
"I'll remember that," she said flatly.
 Yu Chen regarded her pityingly. "But you will not take my advice, will you? I have studied your career with interest. It would seem you have an impetuosity which frequently puts your life in danger. I fear we are destined to come into conflict and that only one of us will emerge the winner."  
Caroline pretended to be nonplussed. 
 Yu Chen's eyes bored into her. "To me you are an enigma, a tantalising mystery. In the West they think an attractive blonde is stupid, shallow, however much they like her looks.  And often I have found that to be the case. But with you it is not so − although you act foolishly, naively, at times, whether from nature or by design it is always hard to tell.  What it is that makes you different I cannot fathom."
"We're all a lot cleverer than people think," she said warningly.
 "That may be so. Anyhow...no, it is not my wish that any of those poor misguided women should be harmed." Before he could continue Caroline had interjected angrily. "They're suffering enough damage as it is. In the long run their minds and bodies will find it very hard to recover."  
 A spasm of rage contorted Yu Chen's face. "They and they alone are responsible for their situation. They were stupid enough to take dangerous risks, even prostrate their very bodies, for financial gain. Now they are paying the consequences."
 "It's not right to take advantage of it. Besides, what about that American girl? The one who tried to get away, fell out of a window and broke her neck?" The sad story of Mary Jean Patterson had broken in the papers the morning of the day Caroline had been kidnapped. "She really thought she was going to Japan to earn money as a dancer and a singer. As far as she knew it was an honest operation. They hoodwinked her, you know that?" 
 Yu Chen stiffened, drawing himself up even taller than his normal height. When he spoke he sounded genuinely shocked.  "Is that so? I had no idea..."
"Well, it is so," Caroline said quietly.
 Again Yu Chen's eyes blazed with anger. "I will have those responsible killed."
"Don't do that." 
"Why not?" He eyed her keenly.
 "It wouldn't achieve anything, would it; wouldn't bring her back. There's too much killing in the world already. You sometimes feel like you're living in a bloody mortuary."
 But Yu Chen was unyielding. "I have standards. They exceeded my orders and there must be discipline within my organisation."
 Caroline closed her eyes, and her head drooped a little. Yu Chen continued to regard her interestedly. "So − you have compassion."
"I should hope so. I'd be letting myself down if I didn't." 
 "I too have compassion. Which is why I have instructed my subordinates not to abduct those women who have indicated that they will not sleep with their customers."
 "You're not necessarily to know if they disobey you. In any case, I still don't like it." 
 “You will be pleased to know there will be no more kidnappings of hostesses, although I cannot speak for others who may covet them for immoral purposes. I have what I want.”
 Caroline found she could lean forward slightly. "I don't expect you'll tell me what you were doing it for − whether it was just the money you were after, or something else. But I'd like to know all the same. What are these "special reasons" you mentioned? I don't think you're the sort who likes to deal with people like the Yakuza or the Triads if he can help it." 
 Yu Chen bowed his head. A look of bitter resentment came over him. "That I should have to associate with such base scum − I, who am of noble blood! But the cause of China, and of the world, demands it. As you rightly surmise, I cannot tell you how. Suffice to say the money from the operation, or rather the percentage of it which I receive, is needed to fund certain projects I am at present engaged on."
 Again Yu Chen closed his eyes in contemplation. He remained in that state for a whole minute. She was about to ask him if he was alright when he came suddenly to life, having apparently reached some sort of decision. 
 "Have you any idea who I am, Miss Kent?" And Yu Chen smiled; or rather his lips shifted slightly to give a glimpse of even, finely-formed, yellow teeth.  
She shrugged. "You tell me."
 "Let me give you one or two clues. I was once notorious; the mere mention of my name struck fear into the hearts of millions. At one stage there was some doubt as to whether I actually existed; I was a myth, a bogeyman invented by mothers to frighten their children into good behaviour. The full truth was never revealed to the world in case it should cause mass panic. And it was all some time before you were born. So it is quite understandable that you have never heard of me.  
 "But for many years, to the law enforcement agencies of the entire world, to Scotland Yard, the FBI and CIA, to the Surete of France, I was the Yellow Peril; the ultimate embodiment of the supposed threat posed by the Oriental races to the survival of Western civilisation. The devil incarnate.  Can you not guess my name?" 
 Caroline was staring at him in bewilderment. "I'm afraid not," she confessed.  
 "Very well, then." Yu Chen raised his hands to his eyes and peeled away the contact lenses she saw had been covering the pupils.  
 The lenses had disguised the natural colour of the eyes. They were green − the most striking shade of it she had ever seen on a human being. 
 Yu Chen leaned towards her and spoke in his soft, hissing, sibilant voice. "I, Miss Kent, am Dr Fu Manchu."

THIRTY-TWO
Chris Barrett paused on the steps of Police Headquarters in Hong Kong, took a deep breath and pushed the button beside the Intercom. A voice issued from the grille. "Yes?" it challenged in English, having seen his Caucasian features on the camera and decided to use what was in any case the international language.
 Chris spoke into the grille. "I'm a friend of Caroline Kent, the girl who's gone missing in Tokyo. I've reason to believe she was involved in exposing the kidnapping of the Western girls here, and that her disappearance may have something to do with it. Could I speak to someone, please?"
"Wait here."
 There followed a lengthy silence. Chris shifted impatiently on the steps, growing increasingly angry. "Hello?" he snapped at the grille.
 He heard a buzz followed by a click as the door unlocked. "Come in," said the voice. Chris pushed the door open and stepped inside to be greeted by a uniformed policeman with a disinterested, weary expression. He turned away, indicating with a curt gesture that Chris should follow him. 
 "Where are we going?" Chris asked as they set off down the plain, white-walled corridor. 
 "I will take you to Detective Inspector Ho. He was dealing with the case."
 A couple more corridors later Chris' escort stopped at a door and knocked at it. A Chinese voice shouted something out, presumably "come in". The policeman opened the door and with a few brief words of explanation ushered Chris in. Ho rose from his seat to greet him, smiling broadly. As Caroline had done, Chris found himself taking an immediate liking to the man. Unlike many Orientals, who thought eye contact was over-inquisitive and rude, he met your gaze squarely when shaking your hand. He was genuinely friendly. All the same, like Caroline Chris sensed an edge of solid steel beneath the cheerful affability.
 "Good afternoon, Mr Barrett. What can I do for you?" Ho dismissed the junior policeman with a nod. 
 He bowed his head, eyes closed, as Chris patiently repeated his story. "I heard of her disappearance. But she was taking a risk, as I warned her several times."
 "She didn't tell me an awful lot. I wondered if she'd had any actual contact with you, apart from ringing to say she'd found the girls. I was looking for anything that might help to trace her."
 "Surely the authorities in Tokyo and Beijing are already conducting an investigation?"
 "I think someone's blocking it." He told Ho of his suspicions. "I don't suppose you'll want to put yourselves in danger by going against them," he sighed. "But I don't think anyone else here will." 
 Ho frowned, briefly casting his eyes floorwards. He looked distinctly unhappy. Though he did not reveal his thoughts to Chris, he was mindful of his wife and two young children. To the other he seemed to be struggling to come to a decision.  
 At length he looked up. "Other than that the girls had come to Hong Kong from Japan, we learned nothing; nothing that was not reported in the press at the time. But that is beside the point. We must find Caroline as soon as possible, before she comes to any harm."
"Will you help me, then?" Chris asked hopefully.
 "I am a Christian," said Ho proudly. "I do not approve of women being imprisoned for sex. Here or anywhere else. It is against the Bible. And any friend of Miss Kent is a friend of mine." He flashed Chris a mischievous smile. "Please keep this a secret, but I think I will shortly be taking a little vacation."
 Chris' eyes widened delightedly. "Super job. Look, I'd like to come with you. For one thing, you'll need some help."
"Very well. But it is at your own risk."
 For a moment Chris hesitated. Then he told himself what he owed Caroline. "I'll take it."      
"So," said Ho expansively, "where then do we start?"
"Well, the Yakuza guy said two things. He said "Dai Sang" and "Shanghai.""
 "Shanghai is reviving as a major port," Ho said. "It is also becoming a centre of prostitution, as it was in the days before Communism." He saw Chris stiffen. "That there is a white slave trade going on there is quite possible, although at the moment there is no evidence for it. The place is riddled with corruption. Altogether I think it would be quite possible for certain kinds of cargo, including women, to be shipped there without the authorities knowing."
 "That Yakuza bloke must have said Shanghai for a reason. It must be where they were shipping the girls after Caroline exposed them in Hong Kong and the place got too hot for them.  Or it could be where this Dai Sang he mentioned is based."
 Ho nodded. "It's the only lead we have. So that is where we must make our enquiries." He grinned conspiratorially. "And because our investigation does not have official approval, we will have to go undercover."  

Caroline stared at Yu Chen for a long time, her eyes popping. Then she broke into a grin. "Fu Manchu? I don't believe it."
 Again that strange half-smile, disturbingly like the expression on the face of a corpse. "Yet there were books written about me, and films made. You must have seen them, or heard of them." He pulled open a drawer, rooted about inside it for a moment, then took out a tattered paperback. "The Mystery Of Dr Fu Manchu, by Sax Rohmer." The cover showed a giant Oriental face, devilish-looking with cruel slanted eyes, looming over a square-jawed hero and an attractive heroine. The girl was shrinking back in fear, eyes wide and hand going to her mouth.  
 "But I thought it was all fiction," she said. "You must be crazy. You just think you're him."
 "The man Rohmer took down the stories as fiction from my greatest adversary, Sir Denis Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard.  He did so because he did not want the world to know the truth  − assuming it would ever be ready for it. He may have...embellished certain things."
 Caroline still wasn't convinced. "Besides if you're Fu Manchu, you'd have to be pretty old. Well over a hundred, by my reckoning."
 "A hundred and fifty-two to be exact, Miss Kent. Many years ago I found a way of countering the ageing process. A serum which acts on the genes to suppress those which govern it. That is the direction in which the study of medicine and genetics is now moving. But I reached that stage long before anyone else did. Originally the serum was made from an oil produced by a species of orchid, now extinct, which thrived only in the forests of Burma. Fortunately I found some further specimens in the jungles of South America before a dam project destroyed the locality where they grew. 
 "It was in 1890 that I first perfected the elixir. I was then around forty-five years of age. I have since been taking it on a regular basis, manufacturing a new supply in my laboratories whenever it runs out."
"And...and if you kept on taking it, you could live for ever?"  
 Caroline's mind was in a whirl. If true, it would go a long way towards explaining certain things. And they were saying it could be done...which made it easier to accept that it already had been.
 Dr Fu Manchu seemed uncertain at this. "The serum has its drawbacks," he said eventually, not really answering her question. "It halts the ageing process but does not reverse it. I cannot regress beyond the mid-forties. But that is a small price to pay. I take the substance because I have great things to do, and must live to accomplish them. That is why it is so essential to me."
 Once more his green eyes closed in contemplation; or did they? It seemed instead as if a film had descended over them, like the membrane which protects the eye of a crocodile, or certain birds.
 "My life has spanned three centuries. During my time I have seen and learned so much...known so many people. Some of them allies, some adversaries. I have spoken of Sir Denis Nayland Smith. Then there was the Baker Street detective..."
Caroline's eyes widened. 
 "Yes, he really existed, although the name by which the world knows him was not his real one." He resumed his reminiscencing. "I knew Hitler...and Stalin...and Mussolini.  Fools, all of them. It is clear from their writings that what motivated Hitler and the Nazis was a racial inferiority complex. He was uncomfortably aware of how much Western civilisation owed to Greece and Rome and Jerusalem. He suspected uneasily that without those influences Aryan culture would not have been quite so excellent. But was his Reich a paragon of civilisation? With its barbarism, its twisted xenophobia, it did only damage to the image of the Germanic peoples. And had it not been for such as him, the West would not be shackled in thought and word and deed by that philosophy, itself riddled with contradictions, absurdities and injustices, which I believe is called Political Correctness. And there would be no Israel to cause trouble. Though the achievement, and tenacity, of the Jews in creating their national state and preserving it in being is remarkable." Dr Fu Manchu spoke with genuine admiration.
 "Mussolini was clever in the way he seized power, but afterwards he fell apart. His performance in the war was pathetic. Stalin was a thick-skulled brute for whom life was cheap. He slaughtered more people than Hitler, which is something the world tends to forget. Where are the benefits of Communism..." He almost spat out the word. "When so many of the people who are supposed to prosper by it have to be killed?
 "The Communists would never have come to power here had not the fool Chiang Kai-Shek misgoverned the country so badly," he said bitterly. "He was corrupt and incompetent. By his folly he gave them everything. There followed the insanity of the Cultural Revolution. The destruction of our ancient ways of life, the massacre of millions of innocents because they would not conform to the new wisdom."  
 He took a manilla folder from a drawer and opened it. Craning her neck, Caroline saw him tip a number of photographs out onto the desk. Some were of the leaders he'd already mentioned, others of more recent political figures.  He studied the latter with a look of distaste. "And these..." A scornful contempt saturated his voice.
 "I kept apart from the Second World War because I thought it best to see how the crisis was resolved, what effect it would have on the world, before acting. It led of course to the triumph of Communism in Eastern Europe and Asia. The new global power structure meant that I could not reshape things the way I desired. I tried to work against it but without success. Then certain events led to the disruption of my network of supporters, and the international authorities began to close in on me.  
 "Fortunately I was able to devise a serum which lowers the external body temperature enough to preserve it by freezing, along with a counter-drug which raised the internal temperature of the body enough to mitigate the effects of the freezing so that they did not prove fatal. I put myself into suspended animation for thirty years, intending that when I awoke I would see what had changed, if anything, and decide how I could exploit it." Caroline shuddered at the thought of what someone of Dr Fu Manchu's brilliance might do with the technology available today, if he'd been able to perfect the kind of technique he'd described over thirty years ago. 
 "I was hidden away in a remote location in Tibet while those of my supporters who remained at liberty prepared for my return, tending the equipment which would revive me from my sleep and fabricating a false identity for me to assume. In the meantime, as I had hoped, the world forgot about me.
 "When I awoke I found that in intellect and ability the leaders of the modern world paled into insignificance before their predecessors. They were either pygmies or simple bullies, petty tyrants who accident and the bungling of others had granted power. The man of Iraq..." Fu Manchu must mean Saddam Hussein. "He caused the world to tremble by his threats. But he was foolish enough to provoke adversaries who could not be overcome. He had cunning but not intelligence."
"Ah," he said suddenly. "Now this one showed promise." 
 He put down the photograph of Margaret Thatcher with a sigh and went on to the next. "Gorbachev was a man of vision and prudence, but he was trapped by his own policies and the situation his predecessors had bequeathed to him. He could not go back, but his reforms merely served to push the tottering structure over to its final crash of doom, like a house so decayed that simply to touch it brings collapse. 
 "And now what are we left with? At best mediocrity, at worst incompetence, leading to a world torn by chaos and strife.  Africa descends further and further into poverty and civil war. Russia knows not who to side with. The European Union is riddled with corruption and lacks the will to agree on a united foreign policy. Britain is hopelessly torn between Europe and America and will soon be preoccupied, paralysed even, by the social problems of accommodating a large population within such a small area. In any case she no longer has the power she enjoyed in the past.          
 "Empires rise and fall, fall and rise..." He stared past Caroline, eyes shining as if in a kind of trance. Whether it was the past or the future into which he was gazing she could not tell.
 "Now there is only one superpower, America, and its arrogance causes resentment and threatens instability." A note of disgust came into his voice. "If only China, my China, would assert itself we would have a counterweight to it. But she does not."  
 "All in all, it's a bit of a mess, isn't it?" Caroline remarked with genuine sympathy. 
"It must be cleared up," said Dr Fu Manchu.  
"And you think you're the one to do it."
"It is my Destiny."
 "But you've tried and failed so many times, if those stories of Mr Rohmer's are to be believed. Doesn't it put you off?"
 "We Chinese are a patient race, Miss Kent. It has a lot to do with the fact that our language, our way of thinking, does not recognise any tense but the present." The sheer longevity of Chinese civilisation, its survival for thousands of years without fundamental change was an important factor here. It meant that Chinese society thought of itself in terms of a continuous present, the product of a single dynamic process which was happening now. As a consequence Chinese did not delay over important tasks  − or at least thought that they didn't − nor did they make a fuss because those tasks had not been done. They simply did things, because they were always happening in the present, as part of a gradual, ongoing, self-contained historical process.   
 The lack of a past tense in language both explained, and was explained by, the absence of a tradition of historical writing in which objectivity and balance were important, as in the West. It was reinforced by the fact that the ruling authorities, kept in power by the Confucian doctrine of obedience, required that writers describe the past in a way that reflected well on the present. 
 "Oh, what's that?" Caroline suddenly exclaimed, delighted.  What she had thought was a hat, or some other item of clothing made of fur, on the desk had suddenly stirred, and a little monkey-like face with huge tufted ears popped up, swivelling round to scan the room blearily. 
 "A marmoset," said Dr Fu Manchu. The ball of fur uncurled itself, and the monkey-like animal clambered to its feet. It covered its face with its paws, wiping the sleep from his eyes. "What's his name?" she asked.
"He is called Peko. Here, Peko, come to me."
 Reacting to the sound of his voice, the marmoset looked up sharply and saw him. With a shrill squeak it leaped several feet through the air to land on Dr Fu Manchu's shoulder, cuddling itself against the side of his head.
 Smiling affectionately, Dr Fu Manchu scratched the fur on the top of the animal’s head, between its ears, gently. It was the first time he had displayed what Caroline regarded as normal emotion. Peko rubbed himself even harder against his master, squealing in delight.
"He is good for his age," said Dr Fu Manchu conversationally.  
"How old is he?"
"As old as me."
"Animals too?"
 "They are usually the first subjects for my experiments.  They sometimes suffer, which is regrettable, but it is better than to use a human being. Of course I experimented on a number of specimens before giving the elixir to Peko." 
 Peko jumped off Fu Manchu's shoulder and sat on the desk grooming himself. By now Caroline sensed that the effect of the drug had worn off; a little stiffly, she got up and moved to the desk, Fu Manchu seeming not to object. She stretched out a hand to stroke the animal. Peko gave a hiss of rage, his head darting forward, and sank his teeth into her fingers drawing a stripe of blood from each. Jumping back, she yelped in pain and indignation. 
 "Oh well, I suppose I asked for that," she said through clenched teeth, grimacing and wiggling her bitten fingers.
 "Peko!" called out Dr Fu Manchu. The animal scurried over to him immediately. Gently he ruffled its fur, whispering soothingly to it. Then he replaced it on the desk and straightened up.
"Try it now," he said.  
 Tentatively she caressed the little creature's head, rubbing it behind the ears. It did not resist but just sat there, looking up at her with a sort of mild interest and occasionally giving a little squeak of pleasure. Dr Fu Manchu seemed to have persuaded it to accept her as a friend. She marvelled at the control he had over the animal.
 She noted that there was a locket hanging from a collar around the marmoset's neck. Assuming it was just for ornamentation, she gave it no further thought.
 For the first time she noticed the two huge figures who had been standing against the wall, just out of her line of vision, as Dr Fu Manchu gave an order to one of them.  Stiffly turning her head, she saw the man go to the teak bureau in the corner and open a drawer, removing a small white plastic box. He took several items from the box: a pad of cotton wool, which he soaked in a colourless fluid from a small glass bottle, and a plaster. With these he proceeded to treat Caroline’s injury.
 "Thankyou," she said politely when he had finished, addressing Fu Manchu as well. Without a word, the massive servant stepped back into the shadows, his eyes and those of his companion remaining fixed on her.
 "They move like zombies," she observed. "What…what are they?"
 "They are my Companions. Some of them are common criminals, men who deserve punishment for their misdeeds and in any case would not be of much use to society if released back into it.  Others I took because I needed their skills. The treatment allows the higher levels of their brains to go on functioning."
"You've got them under some sort of hypnosis?"
"One could call it that."  
 Caroline stretched out luxuriously on the sofa. "All that trying to take over the world and stuff," she said languidly. "Why did you do it?"
 Again the film seemed to descend over, and after a few moments lift from, Dr Fu Manchu's eyes. Those green eyes, like a cat's...or a snake's.
 For a moment she fancied that the pupils had turned into thin, vertical black slits.  
 Get a grip on yourself, Cazza girl, she told herself.  You're letting your imagination run away with you.
But then wouldn't it?
 Dr Fu Manchu spoke. "In my day it always seemed that the West was being very arrogant; trying to bully China and parcel her up according to its own whims, as she had done so many other parts of the world. We were trying to protect ourselves as much as anything else. I thought also that the time had come for us to take our rightful place as the dominant power of the world. That has been my guiding principle all throughout my career. In fact, at the present time China is already heading for world economic domination, but that will not be enough; the hegemony must be translated into a military and political one.
 "Yes, when I awoke from my sleep I found that the geopolitical situation had changed considerably. The Cold War was over, and Marxism discredited by all its failures and brutalities. In China Communism remained but it had become more rational, more adaptive. It now favours capitalism and the free market while preserving authoritarianism in its political arrangements, something I have no quarrel with. It had evolved into something less damaging to the country; something I could work with.”    
"So what are you up to now? I'm dying to know."
 Dr Fu Manchu's lips twitched. "If you are sensible, Miss Kent, your dying should not enter into it."
"Tell me."
 But he was determined to change the subject. "You are very beautiful, Miss Kent. And also intelligent. I believe such qualities should be passed on.  
 "There is an alternative to my killing you. I need an heir, and a child from the two of us would have all the qualities of a wise and able leader." 
 Caroline stared at him in sheer astonishment. "You're not serious?!!"
 He's got to be mad, she decided. Stark raving buggo.  Completely hatstand. Totally tonto.
 "I desire a fusion of East and West, one that will bring order to the world. I believe racial admixture is the key to increasing intelligence. There are exceptions to the rule, of course. I have often found the more Aryan types to be somewhat stolid, somewhat dull, if physically often attractive. In the genetic lottery you have emerged as a more or less pure – Aryan, yet you have a certain perceptiveness, a sensitivity, which is lacking amongst many of your sort. Although intelligence can be of different kinds. And I imagine very few people nowadays are entirely pure, except perhaps in very remote and undeveloped areas where one does not find much in the way of intellectual stimulation. The town is generally more cosmopolitan. But your talents need to made use of, whatever their origin."
 "Well, now you've got me where you want me why don't you just go ahead and do it?" she asked sulkily.  
 "I would not be so uncivilised as to impregnate you against your will, Miss Kent. It must be with your consent."
You've got a cheek, she thought, after all that's happened.
 "No," she said, politely but emphatically. "I'm sorry, but I don't think you're quite my type."  
 "I do not ask that you love me, in the generally accepted sense of the word."
 "Then there's no justification for it, is there? I..." She sighed wearily. "All right. I've slept with men before, casually. In the West there are very few girls over sixteen who haven't. But it's always been because I wanted to."
 "It could be by artificial insemination, if you would prefer."
"It's still not right. I'm not...breeding stock."
 "So. You do not wish to bear me a son. Or to serve me in any other way?"
"Why would it have to be a son?"
"I have found women to be untrustworthy."
 "That's sexist. And I don't serve anybody; understand?  Comprenez? I mean, no disrespect intended but..."
 "You will understand that I am trying to decide your fate here. I must be satisfied that you present no danger to me.  I could seek from you a promise to abstain from further meddling, but I could not be sure you would keep it."
 There was an uneasy silence. Caroline had just about decided that having Dr Fu Manchu's baby was better than being dead when she saw that he was staring penetratingly at her, his eyes blazing with an unearthly, greenish light - or was something making her think they were?
 In her mind they grew larger. Swallowing up everything else in the world, including herself. And the light in them steadily intensified to the point where it almost blinded her. 
 She couldn't tear herself away. It was fascinating, spellbinding, horribly irresistible. Her will was being entirely subsumed within that of Dr Fu Manchu, becoming little more than an extension of it. She stared defiantly back at him, rallying every scrap of her mental energy.  No...no, you cannot do this. I am my own person. A human being with a will of my own − not your slave, your toy. I'm Caroline Angela Mary Kent of 129 Cedar Avenue, Kingston-on-Thames...I work for International Petroleum Ltd...my parents' names are Edward and Margaret...Mum's a housewife and a poet, Dad runs a construction company. I had a brother but he...
 The room was swimming crazily around her, solid matter dissolving it seemed to swirling liquid. With a savage effort she twisted her head away, eyes screwed tight shut, and slumped back onto the sofa, gasping from the mental and physical stress of resistance.  
 "Congratulations, Miss Kent," purred Dr Fu Manchu. "Your will is very strong. Stronger than you yourself suspect, I think." There was no emotion in his voice, no disappointment,  only a kind of detached curiosity. "You are not as brave as you pretend you are, but braver than you think you are."
 He shut his eyes once again. "I think I shall let you go," he said after a moment. “But this is your final warning. The next time our paths cross, and you attempt to obstruct my designs, your life will be forfeit. I am warning you because I feel your death would be a great loss to the world. An irreparable one, since there cannot be many like you on this Earth.
 "It would be best if you did not visit this part of the world for some considerable time. If you did I would take it as a sign that you had started interfering again. Much safer to remain in the West. If fate should conspire to place you once more in my hands, your death will be slow and painful."  
 Her eyes flashed with rage. Just you try it, they were saying.
 "It is necessary to set an example," he went on, undeterred.  "I am a man of my word. If I say I will do good to − or harm − someone, I will."
 Caroline was silent for a few moments, her eyes smouldering with resentment, then spoke. "There's one thing I want to do before I leave the Far East. It's got nothing to do with what you've been up to, I promise."
 "As you wish. My agents will be watching you to make sure you keep your promise."
 Turning to the two Companions, Dr Fu Manchu beckoned them forward with a nod of his head. There followed the familiar ritual with the drug. 
 She heard Dr Fu Manchu speak, although the meaning of his words was completely lost on her. "Remember one thing, Miss Kent," he said. "The Jade Emperor knows all."
 "Does he," she muttered. "Oh yes, I'll remember that all right." Then the drug began to work and for a while a pleasant, soothing kind of dimness clouded her mind, blending slowly and imperceptibly into total oblivion.  

THIRTY-THREE
Her gardening finished for the time being, Marjorie Harriman put down the shears with which she had been pruning her prize roses, straightened up with an effort and walked over to a bench. She plumped herself onto it with a long drawn-out sigh, feeling considerably older than her fifty-five years.  
These days, she hardly dared look in a mirror.
 As she sat there getting her energy back and trying to enjoy the warm sunshine, the fresh air and the twitter of birdsong, her thoughts inevitably turned to her missing son. 
 She did not want to give up hope yet. But it didn't look good, you had to admit. There had been no ransom note. That made it almost certain that whatever the reason why Jeffrey had been kidnapped, he was now dead. They might find and punish the people who had done it, but that wouldn't bring him back.
 She thought of the box in the attic. The instructions had been that it should not be opened for fifty years, and then only by a member of the family. Presumably, his family were the people Sir Denis Nayland Smith thought he could trust most. It was obviously something very important. It would have been Jeffrey who had the honour of opening it. But it now looked very unlikely that he would do so. And with him, the line would perish. 
 So the opening of the box might as well be brought forward.  It would also give her something to do, something to take her mind off her grief. Stiffly she rose from the bench and plodded down the path to the house. 
 She mounted the stairs to the spare bedroom within the roof, where she opened a door in the wall and stepped through into the gloomy, cavernous loft, filled with the shadowy cobwebbed shapes of old trunks and boxes. The musty, dusty smell of the past filling her nostrils, she began her search, taking care not to put her feet too heavily on the thin boards between the rafters. She rooted about among the heaps of junk, among old comics, toys and other relics from Jeffrey's childhood, all of which brought tears to her eyes, for some time before eventually finding what she sought; a battered metal case, tucked away in a corner behind the boiler and a pile of her son's old sporting gear.  
 It wasn't that heavy, and she was able to lift it and carry it downstairs to the living room with ease. She fumbled with the clasp, which had rusted badly with age, and after a few moments succeeded in prising it open. 
 The only thing within was an ancient leather exercise book. She sat down at the table, opened the book, and sat down to skim through yellowed pages filled with crabbed handwriting.
 On the first was written "MEMOIRS OF SIR DENIS NAYLAND SMITH, FORMER POLICE COMMISSIONER OF SCOTLAND YARD." There followed an explanatory note.
 "First let me thank my good friend Dr Petrie for his valuable friendship, over many years, in time of adversity.  It is regrettable that he died before he could contribute his own account of our remarkable experiences, but I am grateful that he and his wife were able thanks to our joint efforts to enjoy many years' happiness together, without interference from he with whom this document is concerned. I trust the enclosed will serve as a proper record of what we achieved in the defence of humanity against one man's ruthless lust for power. 
 "Imagine a person tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green.  Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government...and you have a mental picture of Dr Fu Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.
 "I first encountered him in 1908, when investigating a number of mysterious deaths along a certain caravan route in Burma, which was then a colony of the British Crown. He had by now fallen from grace with the Manchu authorities, and was seeking to promote the interests of China in his own peculiar, murderous fashion. He was searching for the species of poisonous red centipede with which he intended to dispose of those who stood in his way.
 "For some fifty years my path and that of Dr Fu Manchu repeatedly crossed. The story of those incidents is detailed in this memoir. I found that he possessed a brilliant intellect and madness, of a kind, to go with it.  
 "I last crossed swords with him in 1957. Shortly afterwards I decided it was time to retire. I had already enjoyed an active career spanning the best part of a half-century, and now age was finally beginning to take its toll. I could not for much longer have played an active role in thwarting Dr Fu Manchu. 
 "My fear was that after I had retired there would be no-one who would take the matter seriously. The world had other concerns. That is why I have written this note, so that should Fu Manchu reappear at some point the world will be prepared to meet the threat he represents. So far he has not reappeared. Whether that means he is dead, or is lying low while he draws up some insane new plan for global domination, I do not know. But one cannot discount the possibility. With Dr Fu Manchu one cannot discount anything."
 She read with fascination, and a growing feeling of disorientation. She'd thought Fu Manchu was a myth. But apparently he was not.  
 Most of the book was filled with an account of Dr Fu Manchu's nefarious activities, a description of the methods he used, and the efforts of Nayland Smith and others to apprehend him. There were contributions from various other people. She flicked through it, glancing at the underlined headings above each section.

Testimony of Captain Mark Hepburn
Testimony of Miss Moya Adair
Testimony of Mrs Rima Greville
Testimony of Mr Shan Greville
Testimony of Dr Petrie
Testimony of Karamaneh Petrie

 These were all people who had had something to do with Fu Manchu and lived to tell the tale, interviewed some time after the event. Each described their experiences in detail.  Some had been kidnapped and/or put under some kind of hypnosis by him, so that they would do whatever he wanted.
 Without quite having read the whole of the document, she put it down and sat back to take stock of things. It seemed too fantastic to believe. Particularly the bits about elixirs of life, death rays and zombie slaves. But from all accounts Sir Denis Nayland Smith had been a level-headed, sensible personality, not given to absurd flights of fancy. She felt it all had the ring of truth.
 She glanced at one of the photographs arrayed along the mantelpiece; it showed a square-jawed, ruggedly handsome, formidable-looking middle-aged man dressed in the fashions of fifty years ago, the stem of a pipe clenched between his teeth. His eyes sparkled with a keen intelligence. His nose was slightly aquiline, his hair curled close to his massive head and greying a little at the temples. His face suggested strength of character and level-headedness; certainly not a tendency to play bizarre practical jokes.
 She didn't understand any of it. She certainly didn't know what to do about it. But incredibly, it all seemed to be true. And it obviously added up to something very important. She supposed she ought to let the police, or someone in authority, know about it right away. 
 They could do what they liked with the document. It was interesting, but in the long run it held no value for her.  This Dr Fu Manchu had obviously died a long time ago, because nothing had been heard of him in recent years. Maybe he'd finally run out of elixir of life.  
 And she doubted, personally, whether the manuscript had anything at all to do with Jeffrey's kidnapping.  

The office was much like any in the West, light and airy with pot plants dotted about and a calendar on the wall, the page at which it was open showing a painting of an ocean liner at sea. A bookcase took up part of another wall and the desktop, on which sat a computer and a touch-tone phone, was littered with papers. As the man at the desk tapped busily away at the keyboard of the computer processor he could hear the cries of seabirds and the booming sirens of the shipping in the harbour, carried through the window by the summer breeze. 
The phone bleeped and the Chinaman answered it. "Yes?"
 "This is Kwan. A Western man came to Police Headquarters saying he was a friend of the Kent girl. Now Ho has suddenly gone off on two weeks' holiday. It looks suspicious to my mind."
 Dai Sang frowned. "See if you can find out where he has gone, what he is doing. And who is this friend of Caroline Kent? What is he doing at the moment? We do not want him to cause trouble."  
 "I will make enquiries," said Kwan, and rang off. Briefly Dai Sang's eyes glittered with anger at the setback, then with a sigh of annoyance he went back to his work. 

THIRTY-FOUR
"Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be approaching London.  We hope you have had a pleasant journey. Thankyou for travelling British Airways, and we hope to have the pleasure of your company again soon."
 Yu Chen, alias Dr Fu Manchu, glanced out of the window beside him. Through a break in the clouds he could see the landscape of south-east England stretched out beneath him, a patchwork of fields and woods and villages.  
 He spent much of his time travelling around the world seeing to the different branches of his business empire, often  taking two or three flights in as many days. The phenomenon known as jet-lag caused him no problem. A spartan lifestyle helped him achieve the mental and physical discipline he needed to manage his affairs and prepare himself for the great task that lay ahead of him. In building up this self-control he used the meditative techniques of a variety of religions, but he did not identify them with any personal deity. He had no gods but himself and his country. The philosophy by which he lived was based not on devotion to a single Supreme Being but on a set of principles, of which the most important were the superiority of male over female, Yang over Yin, East over West. It was not that one was greater than the other, in terms of absolute value; rather, simply, that for one reason or another he found it best suited to lead.  
 He wondered whether Caroline Kent was an exception to the rule. When she chose to, she could think just as well as a man. Better, in fact. A crisis brought out her inner strength and hidden talents; women dealt with crises calmly and practically while men often floundered about in helpless confusion.
Unless, of course, they were men like himself. 
 He returned to the book he had been reading. It was important to familiarise himself as much as possible with the customs, language, outlook and political arrangements of the modern world, for knowledge gave you power and the ability to manipulate things to your advantage. Despite all he had learned though, he had not been able to abandon the views and mannerisms in which the time he had been born into, and his cultural background, had steeped him. One never did, he supposed. This caused him no troublesome problems of adjustment; the only difficulty with having lived so long was that he sometimes found it hard remembering everything that had happened to him, phenomenal as his memory was. 
 Perhaps one day he could find some way of getting round that. In any case he wasn't inclined to worry about anything much at the moment. His grand designs were unfolding as planned. There was no particular reason for his visit to the United Kingdom other than that if no-one was to be suspicious of him he had to keep everything looking perfectly normal, right up to the last minute. That was why he still had to visit his residences and business premises in the West, as he did anyway from time to time. Though there were one or two important things he could profitably do while he was there.

Shanghai was an incredible city, thought Chris Barrett; seedy but at the same time grand and imposing, just like some ports back home, like Southampton and Liverpool, once were.  
 In the past she had been the Whore of the East, the Paris of China, the Queen of the Orient; a city of adventurers, swindlers, gamblers, drug runners, millionaires, missionaries, gangsters, pimps, revolutionaries, a place of music and dancing. Its role as a major port had brought it into closer contact with the West than anywhere else in the old China, although that contact was unsolicited and often unwelcome. The British, French and Japanese had divided up the city into their own distinct zones, within which their settlers were immune from Chinese law. Being the most Westernised of China's cities, in that era when foreigners had been trying to eat away at the country's independence and exploit its wealth, meant that it had acquired many of the West's social evils. 
 Under the Communists all decadent activities were outlawed, with the consequence that Shanghai became a dour, colourless place from which all the heart and soul had been drained.  For decades it was closed to the rest of the world, like everywhere else in the country. Now it was coming back to life. Not only was it re-emerging as one of the world's major ports, but the prostitutes and the child beggars were also returning, though that of course was not a good thing. As before Shanghai was a city of contrasts; and particularly that between rich and poor, something Chris felt had ominous implications for the future.  
 It was funny, he thought, how many of the political and social trends of the first half of the twentieth century were repeating themselves now that the oppressive weight of those that dominated in the second were removed. Germany was reunited. Leningrad was St Petersburg again. The Balkans had fragmented into a jumble of small independent states some of whom were often at war with each other. And Shanghai was Shanghai once more. You were experiencing a re-playing of history, living through times one had heard about but never known.
 Until recently Shanghai had been one huge museum. Now its nineteenth century character was disappearing as economic progress accelerated and vast chunks of history gave way to department stores, high-rise flats and office blocks. But many of the grand Western-style buildings still remained.  There was still much of the old city left − for how long though, Chris thought sadly as he wandered for a while around the old Chinese quarter, a maze of narrow lanes with closely packed houses from whose windows hung sheets of laundry.  
 But most of their time was spent on business, not sightseeing. On the day of their arrival in the city they found a reasonably salubrious guest house and booked a couple of rooms there; then they went down to the docks to check out the Dai Sang Merchant Shipping Company. They rang the bell by the main entrance, asking the security guard who appeared if there was any work available. The guard rang a foreman, and after a brief conversation with him asked Chris and Ho to wait while he came over.
 The foreman told them he needed a couple of men to work on a short-term basis (the greater part of the workforce, in fact, was casual). One of the workers had been hospitalised in a brawl over some prostitutes, and another was in a cell at the local police station. Replacements were needed until such time as the two could return to work. 
 The foreman took down their personal details − the names and all the other information they gave him were of course entirely false − their photographs were taken, and they were issued with passes. The whole process was over so quickly, with no mention of checking references, that it was clear Dai Sang wasn't the kind of boss who bothered much about the respectability of those he employed. As far as ability to do the job was concerned, this wasn't really a problem, because it consisted mostly of bog-standard manual work which anyone with two arms, two legs and half a brain could have done.  For the heavier items, which needed a fork lift truck or a crane to shift, the necessary training would be given. 
 They started immediately, joining the gang working on the dockside carrying the smaller items, which did not require the assistance of heavy equipment to move, on and off the ships. Their colleagues were a multi-national bunch, in whom all colours and nationalities were represented, so fortunately Chris as a European excited no comment. Some of them were surly and uncommunicative (because they had something to hide?),others friendly and outgoing. But generally the two newcomers were made welcome. As often with such people there was a rough kind of camaraderie; during lunch break, Chris and Ho were invited to join a few of the other dockers in an expedition to a local brothel after work that evening. They knew it was a brothel because of the circumspect way the offer was made and the winks they were given. Chris balked visibly at the idea. Noticing his discomfort, Ho took him aside. Pretending to be enlightening a colleague who was not versed in the ways of the world, he whispered in the Englishman's ear. "This is the kind of thing people in these professions do. We must be like them in every way or we will arouse suspicion."
 "Tell me how you, a Christian, can be involved in it?" Chris asked wonderingly.
 Ho gave him a hard look. "It is necessity," he said. "We wish to save a girl's life. I am a Christian, yes, but that does not mean I have to be a fool, or a coward." Chris was struck by the edge to his voice.
 He decided that if he had to do it he might as well enjoy it. Besides, the more he got any promiscuous urges out of his system now the less he'd be likely to indulge them in later life, when he might be married.  
 He wasn't sure he did enjoy it. The women, all from China or one of the South-East Asian countries, were so petite and delicate that you had to take great care not to hurt them.  He had one experience that was particularly distressing; the girl turned out to be a virgin.
 During the first two days they tried to get the feel of the place, which seemed on the face of it just like any other shipping company. There was nothing that immediately aroused suspicion. They failed to get a single glimpse of Mr Dai Sang, but he was not alone among bosses in being elusive.
 On the second night, back at their lodgings, they met in Ho's room to discuss plans. There would be no late shipments the following day, which meant that apart from the security guard the place would be more or less deserted. This, they decided, would be the time to start snooping around. If the guard saw them they would pretend they were simply going about their usual work.
"What's the drill then?" Chris asked.  
 "We search all the warehouses and then, if we can, the company offices."
"And if we don't find anything?"
 "Then we leave Shanghai at once, in case we have left anything behind that will arouse suspicion. Of course our aim is not to do that, but we had better take no chances."
 They arrived at the company at about 10.30 pm, using their passes to get into the premises. They fed them into a machine mounted on the wall, which read them briefly and then spat them out with a whirr and a click. They made first for the main warehouse, to which the passes allowed them access. The steel double doors unlocked and swung open, and Chris stepped inside, groping for the battery of light switches. One by one he flicked them, and the harsh yellow light illuminated the cavernous interior of the building, filled by the acrid but never wholly unpleasant smell of packing grease, oil and sawdust.
 "Let's see what's in these," he said, going over to a stack of metal crates. It seemed the best place to begin.
 With a bit of heaving and grunting they managed to shift the crates away from the window, so that a patrolling guard could not look in, see what they were doing and get suspicious. Ho took a crowbar from the toolbag he had been issued with on joining the workforce and began prising loose the lid of one of them.  
 Once it was free, the two of them lifted it off and laid it on the floor. Peering inside, the first thing they saw was a thick layer of plastic sheeting. It had a fluffy appearance, like dense cobweb, and was held in place over what it was covering by tough velcro straps. They unfastened the straps and peeled the sheeting away. There were five layers of it in all, and the task took them several minutes to accomplish. 
 Chris pulled out the final sheet and dumped it to one side.  Gazing down into the crate, he saw not women but something else altogether. It was packed full of small metal caskets embedded deep in a layer of something that looked like foam rubber, which would prevent them knocking into each other when the crate was moved. Wrenching one of them open Chris saw that it held several small glass tubes. They looked like the valves of some antique radio set, but somehow he doubted they were anything of the sort. 
 "Does this lot mean anything to you?" he asked. Ho studied the objects for a moment, then shook his head. "I'm a policeman, not a scientist."
 "Right. Still, we'd better take a note of it just in case it's something important."
 "He may be importing them perfectly legitimately," Ho remarked. "Whatever they are."
 While Ho photographed the components and made a quick sketch of them in his notebook Chris moved on to the next crate and repeated the process, stripping away the protective sheeting inside and dumping it on the floor. This time he saw a collection of gleaming steel tubes, of varying lengths, fastened together in bundles. They looked like those in the boiler of a steam locomotive he had once seen under restoration at one of those working railway museums, but were obviously something far more advanced.
 He was bending down to examine them when the door to the warehouse was flung open. A number of men poured into the building, including two tough-looking security guards. The others wore either suits or workmen's overalls.  
The men fanned out to form a line barring the way to the door.  
 A short, thickset man in a business suit stepped through it, training glittering eyes on Chris and Ho. Something told them this was the mysterious Mr Dai Sang.
 Chris kept his cool. "Er, is anything wrong?" he inquired politely.  
They know, he thought with a cold shudder. They know.
 Clearly Ho didn't have much faith in a strategy of bluffing things out. He snatched up the crowbar and ran to one of the long, low windows that ran along the near wall. Prompted into action, Chris dashed after him. He heard Dai Sang and his men break into a run behind them.
 Ho smashed the steel bar against the glass with all his strength. It fractured into a spider's web. Before he could strike it again he felt several pairs of hands grasp him by the arms. With a sharp twist he tore himself free. Moving faster than the men could react, he turned on them and delivered a series of lightning blows to the regions he knew to be most vulnerable. Both men collapsed instantly, crying out in agony.
 Sensing a third attacker bearing down on him, Ho spun round to meet the assault. Dodging the massive dockhand's sledgehammer punch, he grabbed him by the arm and twisted.  He seemed to exert hardly any force, and yet the docker was sent flying into one of his companions as if hit by a ten-ton lorry. The two of them staggered and fell in a heap together.
 If their enemies had guns they weren't using them, Chris noted. They wanted them alive.  
 He barely had time to think this before a couple more of the goons, concentrating their attention on him, threw themselves on him and brought him down. He struggled furiously to break free of their grip.  
 Ho stepped back then hurled himself at the damaged window, bringing up his hands to protect his face. It shattered apart as his stocky body crashed through it, and he landed on the ground outside, rolling over. Wincing at the pain down his side, he scrambled to his feet and ran off.  
 He didn't stop to see what had happened to Chris. Discretion, he had decided, was the better part of valour.  If they both got caught the trail would go cold, and Caroline Kent's fate might be sealed.  
 If they were busy dealing with Chris that might give him time to escape, he thought ruthlessly.  
 Two men appeared round the side of the warehouse, aiming to cut him off. He ran straight at them, having guessed like Chris that they weren't aiming to kill him. As one of them made a grab for him he dodged, grasped the heavy's arm and with almost no effort threw him over his shoulder. 
 Ho pivoted on one leg and kicked out with the other, sending the second man flying backwards into a pile of dustbins. He ran on towards the perimeter wall, hoping that if they had locked the gates against him there was some other way of getting out and guessing that if there was it must be through the wall or over it.
 In his desperation to escape he hadn't realised the men behind him had stopped running. Then he heard it; a high-pitched electronic buzzing, coming from somewhere ahead of him and getting louder as he neared its source. Like an insect, but mechanical in origin.  
 At first he thought it had come from one of the dockyard buildings; then he realised whatever was making it was out here in the open with him. Since there was nothing for him to do but keep on running, that was what he did. In any case he couldn't stop to think about whether it might be dangerous.
The sound was getting louder.  
 He wasn't moving towards it; whatever it was was moving very fast towards him. Moonlight glinted on something silvery and metallic as it shot through the air in his direction with that shrill buzzing. Ho had no time to reflect on what it might be; his only thought was that it must be some kind of weapon, which  they were using to stop him. He swerved to one side. The action moved his line of vision away from the "thing" but he heard the buzzing change in pitch and then felt the rushing movement of air near his head. It had changed direction as he did, and now it was almost upon him.
Might as well turn and face it. He stopped and spun round.  
 In kung-fu your reflexes had to be sharp. A second before the thing would have reached him he stepped to one side, shot out a hand and grabbed it before it had time to react to the move.  
 Glancing down at it, he almost let the thing go in astonishment. He was standing in a patch of moonlight and could see every detail of it clearly. It was about a foot long with an oval, segmented body, rather like an enormous woodlouse, on each side of which were four small jointed legs. A pair of wing-like appendages moved from side to side and up and down. The thing had a separate head which was shaped more like the cephalothorax of a spider; he had an impression of a cluster of little black eyes above a pair of curved, fearsome-looking fangs which opened and closed continually with a clicking noise. It felt smooth and slightly wet to the touch.  
 It twisted in his grip, struggling to break free, its legs working up and down furiously. The movement felt like that of something living rather than mechanical.
 He banished his incredulity and concentrated on the question of escaping. He couldn't run and keep hold of the thing at the same time; he had a problem. Then he remembered the toolbag clipped to his belt. Holding the strange little insect with one hand, he managed to unzip the bag with the other and after some fumbling take out a monkey wrench. 
 He held the "thing" as far away from him as possible, then released it. As it flew back towards his face he jumped to one side and swung the wrench at it with all his strength.  
 There was a bang, a flash, and a tinkling of shattered circuitry. A puff of smoke billowed from the thing and it lurched crazily from side to side, out of control. It smashed into the wall of a warehouse and dropped to the ground, where it lay twitching, little flames licking from its side. Dropping the wrench rather than replacing it in the toolbag, because the slightest delay could be fatal, Ho ran on towards the perimeter wall.
 He had only a couple of hundred yards to go when he heard the high-pitched buzzing again. A second of the creatures was coming his way. And he didn't have the wrench now.  
 It would have got him before he reached the wall, even supposing the gates in it weren't locked.  
He couldn't go on dodging it forever.  
 He turned and ran back the way he had come. Seeing the door of a small concrete outbuilding, an extension to a larger building, standing open not far away he changed direction and made towards it. He heard the thing change course with him. Reaching the door, he yanked it fully open, dashed inside and slammed it shut behind him, continuing to run. 
 Unable to stop in time the creature collided with the door, skidding against it. It hovered indecisively in mid-air for a second or two, then flew off.
 A minute or two later Ho staggered to a halt, and listened for any sound from the creature. There was none; he seemed to have evaded it for the moment. 
 Looking around, he saw that his flight had taken him back into the main warehouse. He stiffened. Facing him were two of Ho's men, supporting Chris Barrett between them. Ho noted the young man's vacant, trance-like expression and guessed they had injected him with a drug of some kind. One of the hoods was holding a pistol to his forehead. 
"You want us alive, don't you?" shouted Ho.
 Dai Sang stepped into view. "If possible," he said. "If it is not..." He nodded to the man pressing the gun to Chris' head and Ho saw the hood's finger tighten on the trigger.
 It had seemed excusable when he couldn't see what was happening to Chris. But he couldn't let the Englishman be killed right before his very eyes. Sink or swim together, as a Westerner might put it. Ho sighed, his shoulders slumping in defeat. Dai Sang's men surrounded him, their guns drawn.  
"How did you know?" he asked.
 "We have our sources," Dai Sang replied. "Once they told us this man had visited you, and that you then took an unexpected vacation, we guessed what was happening. We expected you would have made for Shanghai. We did not recognise either of you when you arrived here, as our contact in the Hong Kong police had not been able to obtain any photographs; instead we observed you and waited to see if our suspicions would be confirmed."
"What were those things which attacked me?" 
 Dai Sang smiled. "Something very clever. My boss designed them − my ultimate boss. He is a remarkable man; I am sure you would be very interested to meet him."
 Ho heard the by now familiar whining sound as the strange creature, or machine, or whatever one was supposed to call it appeared. He knew there was no point in resisting as it flitted towards him, to settle gently on his face. He felt a sharp stinging pain as its fangs stabbed at his flesh. Then everything went black and he toppled stiffly to the ground, landing at Dai Sang's feet.  
 Dai Sang's men released Chris, who slumped down heavily beside Ho. "Put them in the crates," ordered the tycoon.  They began to drag the unconscious bodies away.
 It was irritating, Dai Sang thought as he watched them disappear, to have to report all significant developments to his master before acting on them. But Yu Chen − alias Dr Fu Manchu − never let his subordinates kill anyone without his permission. He needed first to decide whether or not it was justified. Dai Sang guessed that in this case the captives would be spared; now that her friends were in Fu Manchu's hands, there was a better chance Caroline Kent would stay out of his affairs.  

At ten o'clock the following morning, local time, the Tokyo police received an anonymous call informing them that a consignment had just arrived at the port of Yokohama, the contents of which they might be interested in. It was to be found in a warehouse just inside the perimeter of the harbour area; detailed directions were given. Inspector Obeiji and his team entered the building to find the interior of the building empty except for a single crate lying in the middle of the floor. A muffled shouting and banging and yelling was coming from inside it; Caroline Kent had already recovered consciousness. A workman broke open the crate and Caroline was helped out, annoyed at her confinement but otherwise unharmed. Enquiries were made of the foreman at the dockyard, but he was quite unable to explain how the crate had got there, as was everybody else. 

The Suffolk countryside slumbered beneath a beautiful harvest moon, its peace occasionally disturbed by the rumble of a car engine in the country lanes around Ditchingfield.
 In and around the Harriman residence nothing stirred except the occasional small nocturnal animal. The police had by now departed. It had been some time since the attempted break-in, and it did not seem likely that the attempt would be repeated, which was why they had thought it safe to cease guarding the house and its owner. Marjorie Harriman wasn't there, anyway. She had gone to stay with her sister in the West Country, for how long she didn't know. She just wanted to get away from it all. After everything that had happened she had been on the point of installing burglar alarms, but had decided not to because she wasn't sure she'd be coming back, not in the foreseeable future.  
 So Dr Fu Manchu's agents were now able to enter the house without any problem, although they had the equipment to deal with the alarm systems should it be necessary, and move around there without being challenged. But although they searched everywhere, leaving the place in an utter mess with furniture overturned and clothes and other possessions littering the floor, they didn't find what they were looking for.

THIRTY-FIVE
The Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, capital Urumchi, covered an area of one million, six hundred thousand square miles. Due to its huge size the climate varied considerably between north and south, as well as night and day. It was a dry, arid region, divided by mountain ranges into desert and hilly lowlands where scattered patches of green with trees and fields thinned out into scrub before finally giving way to the mountains of western China. Its economy was mainly agricultural though it did have a certain amount of iron, coal, petrol, gold, copper, salt, jade and sulphur.  
 Occupying roughly a central position in the Asian landmass, Xinjiang was a landlocked region, largely wilderness and encircled entirely by the mountains. It was here that the Silk Road, via which merchants travelled to and from the West to sell their wares, once started on its five-thousand mile course to the Mediterranean. Here that traditional China − the Celestial Kingdom, the one true civilisation − came to an end, now as then; giving way, so the ancient Chinese had believed, to a dark realm inhabited by demons and robbers. The Road was still there, though paved only in a few areas and often degenerating into little more than a dusty track. And still used by trucks and the occasional camel train.
 The town of Kashkuk, in the northern part of the region, was a maze of mudbrick houses, twisting lanes and colourful bazaars. In the winding streets and in the bustling market place women in veils, scarves and bright dresses and men in round black caps, woollen tunics and leather shoes went about their business. To Western visitors Kashkuk was a quaint little time capsule  not unique in the region where the traditional craft industries carried on without any help from modern technology. Blacksmiths could still be found at work there, an essential component of a society which relied on horses to get around and accorded that animal something like the status of a deity.
 Every Sunday thousands of people poured in from every part of the region, jamming the narrow streets with the donkey carts, horse taxis and tractor-drawn floats carrying traders and customers alike to Kashkuk's principal market. There the vendors sat or squatted all day with their crates of produce, often seeming unconcerned to sell, a sign of the leisurely pace of life here. But when a sale did seem likely and negotiations began they would haggle furiously, talking loudly and punctuating their words with expansive gestures. On display were pigeons in netted baskets, richly patterned and woven carpets, piles of animal skins and goats' heads, baskets of pilau rice, nan bread and mutton dumplings, boiled eggs dyed red to distinguish them from the raw variety, and stacks of timber for the ornately decorated balconies, columns and supporting timbers that were a feature of the local architecture. In a dirt-floored stadium adjacent to the market place the traders crowded to watch young horses being broken in and afterwards barter for them. 
 The Han Chinese population were rarely to be seen in the bazaars, preferring to patronise Kashkuk's one modern supermarket; a sign of the different mindsets of the two peoples. Where the Chinese favoured discipline, austerity and collectivism the Uighur were relaxed, sensuous and individualistic. In particular they loved dancing (which Confucius, who still exercised considerable influence over the hearts and minds of the people, thought ridiculous) and music, along with their horses. 
 The rest of China had more or less passed Xinjiang by. Of the Cultural Revolution the only trace that remained in Kashkuk was the fifty-foot statue of Mao tse-Tung, the Great Helmsman, which still towered over the main street having survived various unsuccessful attempts by the local authorities to blow it up.  
 The centre of the city was the mediaeval mosque, built like most other buildings there of unglazed mudbricks, with its vast sprawling dome, two minarets, rows of arched entrances and walled courtyard. Inside the beamed ceilings were supported by intricately carved wooden pillars while the floor was of stone blocks covered with straw matting. In the courtyard was a well for you to wash at before praying, a sharp contrast to facilities at the modern mosque where Yusuf Ramasseh had first made himself known to al-Kursaali and his associates.
 It was Friday and the main hall of the mosque was filled with the bowing and kneeling faithful, who had come from miles around in their truckloads. None of them saw Li Tan stiffen slightly, almost imperceptibly, at one point during his sermon. His voice wavered for a second, but not enough for anyone to notice. He went on with what he was doing as if nothing had happened.  
 After prayers were over he stepped down from his podium and went over to one of the arched doorways in the wall, disappearing through it. Behind the door a corridor led to the room set aside for his own use as a place of private prayer, study and retreat.  
 The room was small, perhaps a little cramped, but cosy.  Bookcases lined the stone walls, the only other items of furniture present being the chair and table in the centre, and a wooden chest in one corner which the imam always kept locked. On the table, looking rather incongruous against the old-fashioned simplicity of its surroundings, sat a television set.
 Once inside, Li Tan closed the door to show that he did not wish to be disturbed. Then he produced a key from beneath his white robe and unlocked the chest, taking out a Japanese-made laptop computer in a protective aluminium case. Resting it on the desk, he connected it to the power point at the base of one wall, to the satellite dish on the roof of the mosque which Yu Chen, as part of his project to bring Xinjiang into the modern age, had generously supplied. Chen had told him the installation would enable worshippers to see what the Muslim community worldwide was doing and bring them into greater contact with it.
 Once the apparatus was fully set up, Li Tan switched on the laptop and began typing out his message. It was in Arabic, a lingua franca of Islamic terrorism, and partly in code so that although the US National Security Agency were probably listening, they’d have no idea what it meant.  
 "This is Li Tan. The last shipment has left Shanghai and should arrive at Southampton tomorrow morning. Be ready to receive it." 
 The words bore no relation to what they were intended to describe, a bomb for example being referred to as a dog or a cat; Dr Fu Manchu was careful to avoid the trap so often fallen into by those who, for example, used passwords for their computers which reflected some known personal interest. There were substitutes for every word or phrase of significance, that might be used to instruct the cells in what they must do, or warn them of some danger which might arise to the plan. Each member of each cell had learnt them all off by heart, afterwards destroying the crib sheets used so as to leave no clues for a mole to find. To those intercepting them the messages would either have been gibberish or seemed to refer to something completely different to what Fort Meade or GCHQ were hoping to find.  
 Over the next few minutes further messages were received by the cells in New York and San Francisco, in Moscow and Paris and Berlin and Sydney, in Ottawa and Oslo and Stockholm.  Meanwhile Dai Sang's ships were steaming at full speed across the oceans of the world, carrying their consignments of death to Antwerp, Marseilles, Hamburg, Brisbane...

THIRTY-SIX
Caroline had put on her journalist's hat to arrange her meeting with Kendo Fujiori. She often posed as a reporter when trotting the globe on her various extracurricular activities, for a totally fictitious newspaper whose number was also that of Global Datasystems Incorporated, a front for MI6. It was a favour Rachel had granted her in return for services rendered.
 The meeting had been arranged with the help of the Japanese Embassy in London who had also provided an interpreter, a young girl in her twenties. They drove to Fujiori's house on the outskirts of Tokyo, where a housekeeper showed them into the living room. Fujiori rose stiffly from his chair to greet them, nodding politely. He was smartly dressed in suit and tie, and the way he held himself made clear his military upbringing. The interpreter bowed to him, so Caroline thought she'd better do the same.
 He shook their hands, then waved them both to chairs. "Thankyou for agreeing to see me, Mr Fujiori," Caroline said politely as they took their seats. "As you know we're doing a feature on people who fought in the war and how they now feel about those times..." Again Fujiori nodded, in a fashion which might have been described as curt. Clearly he was keen to get down to business. 
 It was with some reluctance that he had agreed to see her. Then he had thought about it and decided it might not be a bad idea after all. A way of setting the record straight.   
 Fujiori had enlisted in the Imperial Army in 1931, when still a very young man. "May I start by asking what made you join the army?" Caroline asked.  
 "I wanted to earn some money. Our family was very poor, there was not enough room for everyone. Being a soldier was a good way to earn a living. I would have been able to pay to build a proper house for us to live in." Having done her research properly, Caroline understood how during this period of Japanese history general economic difficulties, made worse by the West's restrictive trade policies towards Japan − a manifestation of its rather superior attitude towards her − had resulted in a sense of wounded national pride, while the problem of overcrowding within a relatively small country had led her to seek living space overseas, in China and other countries on the South-East Asian mainland, just as the Nazis had sought to create lebensraum for the German people in the Balkans. It had been too simple, too easy a solution, one made possible because Japan's military and political leaders educated their people to think of other nations and races as inferior, with no rights that might be infringed.
"What were your feelings towards the West?"
 Fujiori took his time before answering this question. "You have to understand what it was like in those years," he said bitterly. "To embrace peace and Western values had brought us nothing, only poverty and humiliation." Plus ideas such as democracy and the emancipation of women, thought Caroline.  Useless things like that.
She paused. "Would you say then that you hated the West?"
"Only that we were angry."
 "I see. And the things which happened during the thirties, and in the war? The ill-treatment of Chinese civilians, and Allied POWs?"
"Of course I regret them," he said.
"But you didn't think you were doing anything wrong?"
 "I didn't feel any sense of guilt because I was fighting for the emperor. He was a god. In his name we could do whatever we wanted to the Chinese. Therefore I had no sense of guilt.  I also felt that if I didn't serve the emperor I would be dishonouring my family."  
 "I can understand that last bit," Caroline said. "It's your culture. But the rest...I mean, you must have known it was all − " She checked herself. Something indefinable held her back from offending Fujiori. It was clear his time in the service of his country meant a lot to him. "But surely you must have known it couldn't have been right."
"That was how we thought in those days," Fujiori said simply. 
"But it wasn't right."
He shrugged. "That was how we thought."  
 Caroline took a deep breath. All the time she must stay polite and reasonable. She knew she'd lose him otherwise.  
 "I spoke recently to a woman named Claire Montgomery, who was an inmate at a prisoner-of-war camp in Singapore which you commanded. She claims you raped her."
 "She is mistaken," Fujiori said. "After all it is over sixty years ago that we are talking about."
 She smiled sardonically. "If someone had raped me I think I'd remember his face. You ruined her life by what you did.  Do you know she keeps your photograph by her bed? It may have been sixty years, more or less, since the business happened but I can still tell it's you." Like many old soldiers Fujiori had aged well.  
 He was silent for a moment while he tried to decide what to say. It might be simpler, though still stressful as lying generall was, to flatly deny the charge.
"You're refuting these allegations, then?" he heard her ask. 
 But he was an old man. It was best to clear this matter up before he died. If possible by giving some explanation that would not dishonour his name.
"Very well," he said quietly. "I raped her."
 "Why? Like the other things, you must have known it was wrong."
 "It was part of the culture of the time, that such things happened. I have told you why. There was nothing I could have done. It was what we were expected to do. I would have been shot if I had refused to do such things."
 The interviewer sensed the sudden change in mood, and was clearly uneasy. But she went on translating, Fujiori's edgy manner showing she wasn't editing things for his benefit.  Fortunately she shared Caroline's views on the matter, and felt it should be resolved for the sake of Japan's pride and out of general decency. She wasn't going to him off the hook. Good for you, love, Caroline thought.
 "Now hang on a minute," she said. "You were the camp commander. You could have put a stop to it if you'd wanted to. I've heard of cases where the commander intervened to stop Western prisoners being mistreated. Why not you?"
 Another long silence followed. It was Caroline who broke it, since Fujiori didn't seem disposed to. "It wasn't just the rape. You did all sorts of rotten things to those women. And your sort didn't treat men very well either, did you?" She shuddered inwardly, recollecting the old films she had seen of Allied soldiers reduced to walking skeletons by deliberate malnourishment. "It was a general dislike for our culture, wasn't it?" 
 "You were intruders in Asia; invaders." Fujiori's eyes had narrowed, and his tone of voice showed he was well and truly angry. "What right did you hypocrites have to tell us what to do? You had your own colonies in the East, and elsewhere, and you committed brutalities just as we did." 
 "I understand your point of view," she said. "What I'm concerned about is that some people think one wrong excuses another. 
 "I came here as an individual, not as a white or a black or a yellow person. Looking for compensation for someone." All pretence of her being a journalist was gone now, but Fujiori didn't appear to care. His only concern was to go on defending himself.
 "I don't think you can make just one member of a race or citizen of a country answerable for its collective...sins. Those were very different times. People didn't think the way they do now. I can't say how I'd have thought if I'd been alive then; for all I know I might have been staunchly anti-imperialist." She sighed. "If it's any consolation, when I read about some of the things the West has done to other cultures in the past, I find it extremely embarrassing. I suppose that's an understatement.
 "You won't apologise for it, will you? You think it'll mean loss of face. Surely, you gain dignity by admitting you're wrong. You're more likely to lose it if you carry on trying to deny the plain truth." 
"That is your way. It is not ours."
 "Too many people excuse what they do by saying it's their culture," she said. 
"You would have me respect yours." 
 "Not where it's wrong. But some things aren't wrong.  They're just part of someone's way of thinking.
 "The men surrendered, and you thought that was cowardly so you tortured and starved them. But the women weren't combatants anyway, so the argument doesn't apply to them.  Anyway, do you know why the men surrendered? So they could live and fight another day. If they could have escaped they would have done; they'd probably have seen it as their patriotic duty. If they could have rejoined their units they'd then have been of use again to the war effort, wouldn't they?
 "And then there were their families. Why should I condemn my loved ones to a life of grief without me because I think it's right I should die? We're not an inferior culture, just a different one. There's a kind of logic behind what we do, baffling as it may seem to other people. Perhaps we don't defend ourselves in this way because after all that's happened in the past there's too much emphasis on us understanding the rest of the world, rather than our understanding ourselves − unless it's so we can be got to admit how racist we are. 
 "We in the West have been told we ought to change − in some cases, made to change − by politically correct liberals − because so much about our society was racist and prejudiced. But other people have to change too. We've never had a monopoly of all that's wrong.  
 "We don't like having to cover ourselves up all the time, or avoid drinking alcohol, or accept a different kind of status for women, when we visit a strict Islamic country. But we do it. If we can put up with what we might find restrictive or undignified, so can you.
 "The decent, the honourable thing is to respect someone else's culture and treat them the way they would regard as polite. If they want you to say sorry to them, you say sorry.  At least do it out of respect for their peculiar customs, even if you honestly don't believe what you did was wrong.  Though I can't see what's honourable about brutalising women − or men, come to that − raping them, starving them, torturing them and using them in ghastly experiments.
"So why can't you do it? Why can't you just say sorry?" 
 Slowly Fujiori lowered his head. "I regret it," he said, his voice an incoherent mumble.
"That isn't the same thing."
"I regret it," he repeated.  
 It didn't seem there was anything more to be got out of him.  "Well," she said, rising, "thankyou for the interview, Mr Fujiori. I hope you'll think about what I've just said."
 "I've got Claire Montgomery's address here. Maybe you'd like to write to her; she's old, she might not be around for a great deal longer." Nor might you, as a matter of fact, she thought. She handed the piece of paper to Fujiori, who took it without speaking, then stood up and bowed to them. They returned the gesture and left.
 Afterwards she thanked the interviewer for her help. They had done what they could; it would either bring some kind of result or it wouldn't. Now Caroline could turn her attention to other matters.
 She could tell the Japanese police nothing about her experiences following her rescue from Katanaka's men, and her interview with their Chinese counterparts was likewise a cursory affair. Nobody would believe her if she started talking about Dr Fu Manchu. And she couldn't say with any certainty where she had been held. She had a suspicion that Fu Manchu, who seemed to have his finger in a lot of pies, would use his connections to prevent a proper investigation into the matter.
 That night in her hotel room she sat thinking for a long time. She'd already had two narrow escapes; she didn't feel she could ignore a second warning. Not when she was becoming increasingly aware that her family were concerned, as they would be, about her habit of getting into dire danger. Besides, what further need was there for her to be involved? Dr Fu Manchu had told her he had what he wanted, that there would be no more kidnappings of Western hostesses. Not by him, anyway. Probably the hostess business, with its attendant dangers, would go on much as before. But her abduction and subsequent fear that she was in for a repeat of her ordeal under Fouasi had shaken her badly. She contented herself with the thought that she'd already done the slavers a good deal of damage. 
 Fu Manchu was another matter. He was clearly up to something; something big, if he was really what Sir Denis Nayland Smith had made him out to be. She tried to tell herself that what she didn't know, she needn't worry about. But there remained a nagging unease which she could not succeed in banishing and which conscience kept on telling her she should respond to. 
 Best to wait until he made his next move, she decided. Then she'd have an excuse. But at the moment she felt a curious urge to reciprocate his honour, which was at odds with the resentment she felt at being told to stay out of it.  Altogether her meeting with Fu Manchu had been a disorientating affair; an encounter with something ancient, alien and by no means entirely repellent. It left her filled with a dizzy whirling maelstrom of thoughts.  
 Eventually she decided there was really nothing to do except go back home. 

After Caroline and the interpreter had gone Kendo Fujiori went to stand at his living room window, gazing out into the garden at the blossom drifting gently down through the air to settle on the grass.  
 It was surprising, really, what never occurred to you until someone had made you think about it. Even after over eighty years of life. 
 Eventually he left the window and crossed to the writing desk in the corner. There he sat down and wrote out a letter, together with instructions to his home help to send it via the British Embassy.
"Dear Prisoner M..." He crossed it out and started again.

"Dear Mrs Montgomery,
 I wish to apologise most sincerely for everything I did to you, and your fellow prisoners − to whom I also address the sentiments I am expressing here − when you were in my charge in Singapore. I have wronged you all most grievously; words cannot convey the shame and the horror which I feel, or ought to feel.
 A friend of yours has asked me to write this letter. I can only hope it will go some way towards healing the wounds that were inflicted on you so long ago. It is true that I and many others were caught up in the culture of that time. But there were things I need not have done, and did; and which I could have stopped others doing, but did not. For me to have behaved in that way, and afterwards to have denied the truth, was unworthy both of myself and of all true Japanese.  
 The authorities chose to be lenient with me after the war, when I did not deserve it. If they could treat me so then, they will not punish me now when I am old. I should go to prison, as I would in your country, but that I am afraid is not going to happen.
 So I go now to join my ancestors. I feel it is a small atonement for all my crimes, but nothing else is within my power. How my forebears will look upon me I do not know, but there is nothing more I can do to influence their opinion of me.  
 I destroyed your life. May I wish you every peace and happiness for what remains of it.
With kindest regards
Yours sincerely
Kendo Fujiori."

And then he took down the treasured samurai sword that had belonged to his great-great-grandfather from its place on the wall, and fell upon it.  

"They said the last shipment was about to arrive and we were going to collect it tomorrow. Presumably these are the detonators and the plastic explosives." 
 At the other end of the phone Derek Slate tensed. "You still there, Sir?" he heard Ramasseh ask.
 "Yeah, yeah," he muttered. Swiftly he evaluated what Ramasseh had told him. "The big bang must be scheduled for sometime soon."
"It looks like it."
"They're still not saying when?"
 "No. Not until just before the actual bombing. That way there's less chance of one of us letting something slip."
"Are you going on the mission yourself?"
 "No, I seem to have been spared that. But they'll let me know when it is, just so I'm not sitting around wondering what's happened to them. Means I should have enough time to warn you."
"And they still don't suspect you?" 
 "If they did, they wouldn't still be giving me the gen on everything."
 "They could be feeding you false information, just to confuse us." It wasn't the first time that thought had occurred to Slate.
 "No, I'm sure they accept me for what I say I am. I think I'd know it if they suspected anything."
 Slate grunted in agreement. Ramasseh, he knew, was no fool.  "OK, Ram. Just carry on sitting tight for the moment. I'll be round to see you sometime soon; I'll give you a call to let you know when. 'Bye for now."
 He turned to Mike Thompson with a grin, eyes gleaming excitedly. "I think it's nearly time to move," he said with relish. Perhaps he wasn't leaving it too late. Perhaps it would be all right after all. 

When Ho had seen the glazed look on Chris Barrett's face and guessed they would try to sedate him too, he had known at once what he should do. It was the only chance he had of staying in control of his fate.   
 As soon as he felt himself becoming drowsy he had shut his eyes, withdrawing into the meditative state and concentrating his mind on one thought, that of the flower  − the focus, the still centre. And so whatever serum they were using had not worked, because whoever designed it had assumed it would be operating on a mind that was conscious in the normal sense.  Because his had not been functioning on the normal level, in the usual way, when it had been injected into him he had been able to bypass its effects. When he slumped to the ground apparently senseless Yu Chen's men had assumed it was just the serum doing its work.  
The flower was the still centre of everything − including the serum.
 The problem was knowing how long to stay out for. At some point he would need to be able to act. And he had no idea what situation he would find himself in when he came out of the trance state.  
 He had decided to stay out for four or five hours in all. He reasoned that by then the serum might have begun to wear off; there was less danger of it starting to affect him when he came round. If it did, the period of withdrawal would have refreshed him enough to have the strength to resist it.  
 And when he recovered he’d have to move fast, before they realised he was conscious. He had no idea what they were planning to do to him and Chris and so he needed to be fully alert and active. It was taking a risk, but a necessary one.
 Concentrating now on the real world he knew existed beyond his own mind and what it saw, the arena within which the ego existed and strove for harmony, he brought himself gradually out of his trance and back to full awareness. He found himself in a space enclosed on two sides by metal walls and on the others by a stack of the piping he had seen in Dai Sang's warehouse, covered with a material like bubble wrap. The air was stuffy but he seemed able to breathe normally. He could feel a tremor running through whatever structure he was in, suggesting motion. 
 A crate. They had put him in one of the crates, and then loaded it onto a lorry, or perhaps an aircraft. The stuff in which the piping was wrapped prevented him from bruising himself as he brushed against it with the jolting movement.   
 Chris Barrett lay beside him, quite unconscious. Ho checked him and found him unharmed.  
 Patiently Ho lay still until eventually he felt the jolting cease. He heard faint sounds of voices and of people moving about. Then a fumbling and scraping as the lid of the crate was unfastened.
He braced himself.
 A square of light appeared above him, expanding rapidly as the lid was slid off.  
 The four men standing around the crate were taken completely by surprise as Ho sprang to his feet and jumped out. Before any of them could react he had grabbed the nearest and thrown him. A second man was brought down by several sharp blows to his pressure points, delivered in rapid succession. The third was already closing with him, but Ho leaped nimbly to one side, shot out a leg and tripped him. His head connected sharply with the side of the crate, knocking him out, and he slid down it to crumple in a senseless heap.
 The fourth man was circling him warily, fists clenched and body tensed to strike. Meanwhile the one he had thrown was clambering to his feet, shaking his dazed head furiously. In a moment he would joined his companion and the two of them would rush him. 
 Ho's eye fell on a crowbar lying on the floor a few feet away. He ran to it and snatched it up, whirling to face them as they charged towards him. He swiped savagely with the bar and it caught one man hard on the side of the head, with enough force to knock him unconscious. The other was already lunging towards him, too close to be hit with the bar. Ho dropped it and shot out both arms, grabbing his opponent by the biceps. For a moment the man was held completely motionless, quite unable to break Ho's grip. Then Ho suddenly let go of one arm, keeping a tight hold of the other, and before the man could react heaved and twisted, throwing him head first against the wall. The heavy lost all interest in the proceedings, out cold from the impact of his skull with solid concrete.
 Examining the four men, Ho concluded they would be out for some considerable time. He lifted Chris Barrett from the crate and placed him gently on the floor. Looking round, he saw he was in a spacious loading bay filled with crates and machinery for stacking and hoisting them. He hunted until he had located several rolls of twine and ducting tape, no doubt used to help secure things in the crates, plus a knife to cut them with.  
 He bound and gagged the four heavies before dumping them in the crate and replacing the lid, re-sealing it. The lid would muffle any sounds they might make to attract someone's attention. With any luck, it would be a long time before their disappearance was noted. Which would give him and Chris a chance to escape from wherever they were.  
 The loading bay was open at the far end to where he stood; the steel shutter which closed off the entrance was in the raised position. Through the opening he saw a broad expanse of tarmac with a fence, thick strands of steel and wire strung between concrete posts, running round its perimeter.  The Hercules transport plane parked a few hundred yards away confirmed it as an airfield.
 Cautiously he ventured outside. The air was thin and it was quite warm. The landscape beyond the fence was bleak and barren, austerely beautiful, with low rocky hills in the foreground and a towering mountain range behind them. There were a few scrubby trees. They must be somewhere in the west of the country, Ho realised. Xinjiang or maybe Gansu. Probably a long way from any centre of population; certainly there were no other buildings in sight. And no sound apart from the wind which whistled eerily among the boulders and rock formations; as it suddenly changed direction a hot, stifling blast of air blew into his face and forced him to turn away. 
 It was clear they were in a very remote spot. If they tried to escape from here on foot they might become hopelessly lost, perhaps starve to death.  
 He glanced back at the building he had come from. It had the look of some kind of military installation. The massive concrete walls, almost vertical but not quite, must be hundreds of feet high. At the end nearest to him, one at each corner, were two tall towers with look-out turrets at the top. At the other was an older section, which he guessed had once been a fort and from within whose battlemented walls rose a towering pagoda, constructed in tiers each of which had a flared roof with dragon statues at each corner, where it was supported by one of the four continuous columns, with intricately and beautifully carved capitals, which rose the height of the building. The lowest, largest section of the pagoda was a parallel-sided cube built flush with the wall of the main complex and presumably accessible from inside it.
 A helicopter stood on the runway in the shadow cast by the giant Hercules. It looked as if they went to and from the place entirely by air. Unfortunately he was no pilot but there must be some alternative means of transport, some kind of land vehicle, as a contingency plan for use if there was an emergency and the aircraft were unavailable or out of action. His eye fell on a fork-lift truck; but he doubted he'd get far in that.  
 He returned to the loading bay. To his left a door opened into what looked like the interior of a factory. He could hear the rumbling, clanking sounds of heavy machinery in operation, the hissing of what might be welding torches. No way out through there; there would be people around, unless whatever process went on here was fully automated. The risk was too great. 
 He looked down at Chris. The young man was still out cold.  He would be a heavy weight to carry, slowing him down if he was discovered and had to run.  
 There was another door in the far wall, which stood ajar.  He went through it and found himself in a broad corridor.  There were a number of doors on one side and he tried each of them in turn.  
 The first and second were just spare storerooms, with a few odds and ends piled in a heap. The third was a garage, with a jeep parked before a steel sliding door operated from a control panel in the wall.  
 The vehicle was locked. He started looking for something with which to break it open. Once he'd got it started he could drive it round to and inside the loading bay, pick up Chris and then make his escape. What happened after that, he'd just have to trust to God.   

Chris Barrett stirred feebly as his brain came slowly back on line. He was fairly strong and tough, which was why the effects of the drug had not lasted longer. 
 With a tremendous effort Chris picked himself up, clasping both hands to his pounding head. His vision was still a little blurred, but gradually it cleared, the headache easing with it.
 Taking in his surroundings, he tried to work out what had happened. There was no sign of Ho anywhere, but he could hear someone moving about not far away, behind the door in the far wall. Not realising that this was Ho, Chris decided to play safe. He had no way of knowing if they were friend or foe.  
 He went outside, took in the scene and reached much the same conclusions as Ho had. It looked like they were miles from anywhere, and he didn't fancy getting lost in all that wilderness.
 It seemed their enemies wanted them alive for the time being; or they wouldn't still be alive. So for him to be recaptured might be the lesser of the evils. He decided to take the risk and not attempt to scarper, not just yet.   
 Out in the open he felt exposed, clearly visible. After a moment he went back inside and started to explore, moving away from where he'd heard the sounds. His plan was to find some means of transport in which he could make his escape or, alternatively, of calling the outside world.   
 The only other route he could take was through the door into the factory. He eased it open a fraction and peered in. He saw a vast room filled with massive, complex, ultra-modern equipment, humming and throbbing with power. Most of it appeared to be functioning by itself, but here and there human figures could be glimpsed; one man was loading something onto a conveyor belt which disappeared into the mouth of an enormous furnace, while another stood watching as rolled sheets of red hot metal were fed by the same method to a giant press, consisting of two massive blocks of solid steel the upper of which slammed down on the lower every couple of seconds with an echoing clang, beating the sheets into whatever shape they were supposed to be.
 The workers wore drab grey overalls. They moved in a stiff, robot-like fashion and their faces were expressionless, completely devoid of emotion. 
 Their backs were to him and he was able to slip into the room without being seen. Pressing himself against the wall, he worked his way gradually along it towards the nearest door.
 Suddenly one of the workers turned to pick up a tool from a workbench, and Chris ducked quickly out of sight behind one of the giant forges. After a moment he peered out again, and gave an involuntary gasp of surprise. One of the workmen was a European, a sandy-haired young man who looked little more than a teenager. His face seemed strangely familiar. With a start Chris recognised Jeffrey Harriman, the boy who'd been abducted from his school a month or two previously, with no ransom demands ever being made. What the hell could he be doing out here?
 The youth’s back was to him, and he crept out from his hiding place. Darting from one bank of machinery to the next, crouching behind each for a moment or two before moving on, he managed to reach the far end of the vast room and slip through the connecting door.  
 He had the impression the workers were under some form of hypnosis, and that its effect was to dull their senses. He wasn't sure they would have reacted if they had seen him.  
 The door led to another factory area where massive curved shapes, the sections of some huge cylindrical structure, sat glowing red with heat in giant cradles, gradually cooling down. Again he found himself dodging from cover to cover.  This part of the premises seemed empty of people but he was wary of someone suddenly coming along and spotting him. He wondered if it wouldn't have been better to go outside and work his way round the building, but to get back to where he'd regained consciousness would mean going past where the sounds of movement had been coming from. There was nothing to do but press on.  

After hunting around inside the garage for a few minutes, Ho found a toolbag containing a crowbar and used it to force open the door of the jeep. Consulting the fuel gauge, he saw to his relief that the tank was more or less full. 
 The keys weren't in the fascia, nor were they in the dashboard compartment. He'd have to find something to trip the ignition. Once again he began rooting around.  
 Coming across a bundle of thick twine he unravelled it, snapped off a length of the stuff and carried it over to the jeep. He inserted one end into the fascia and wiggled it about. For a few moments nothing happened, then the engine coughed into life, its fitful spluttering settling down to a low rumbling growl. Going to the wall, he pressed the button on the control panel and with a gentle whine the shutter over the entrance rose up into the ceiling. Climbing into the vehicle's cab, he started the engine and drove out onto the tarmac apron surrounding the complex.  
 Turning to his right, he stopped the jeep just outside the loading bay. Scrambling down, he hurried inside, saw that Chris was gone and stopped dead, frowning with annoyance.  
 The heavies were still lying unconscious inside the crate. Chris must have come round and gone searching for a way out. Well, Ho couldn't spend too much time looking for him. 
 With any luck he hadn't gone far. Ho moved cautiously about the corridors of the complex, careful not to go too far from the loading bay in case he needed to make a quick getaway. Of course he couldn't call out Chris' name in case someone heard him.
 But it would not be long before it was realised the heavies he had knocked out were missing and a search began. 
 It occurred to him that Chris might have gone outside. He retraced his steps to the loading bay, and from there stepped out into the open. He scanned the airfield and the hilly landscape beyond it, but could see no sign of Barrett.  
 He began to work his way slowly round the outside of the main complex, every sense alert for danger, ready to strike the instant he was challenged. He hoped Chris had gone the other way, in which case they would bump into each other at some point. If he hadn't, the two of them might end up pursuing each other around the building without ever getting a sight of each other. He chuckled softly, grimly, at the thought
 Then he went rigid, crouching low in a defensive posture, as a door in the side of the building a hundred yards ahead began to open.   
 There was no suitable hiding place nearby and if he ran in search of one the noise would give him away. He had no choice but to stay where he was.  
 A Chinese man in a white collarless tunic, like that worn by a male nurse, came out and headed for an outhouse situated to their right. After him walked a group of young women, the last of them evidently a nurse too but clad in silk trousers and a sleeveless waist-length singlet.  
 As Ho took in the sight of the girls all thought of his danger was briefly banished. He started in amazement, eyes widening. Except for the Chinese one they wore smart Western-style dresses, and not only that they were Westerners, taller than most Orientals and with typically Caucasian features. There were about eight of them altogether; two were brunettes, one a redhead, the rest blonde. All were strikingly attractive.   
 They moved in a swift, jerky fashion, rather like marionettes, and their faces had an unnaturally bright and alert look, as if they'd been taking some kind of drug. 
 Having no reason to look in his direction, the party trooped on, disappearing through the door of the outhouse. Ho stared after them for a moment, astonished and intrigued.  
 That Dai Sang was smuggling other things beside women, transporting them here to this remote installation, he already knew. But why would the girls be sent there as well?  Presumably the people who worked at the place needed sex as much as everyone else, and couldn't otherwise get it in such an out-of-the-way location; the medical staff were there to check the girls had no nasty diseases which might be passed on. Unaccountably, though, he felt there must be more to it than that. In any case someone had to be told.  
 He would have liked to continue exploring in the hope of finding out just what was going on here. But he knew that wasn't possible. He had to find Chris Barrett and then make his way as fast as possible to somewhere where he could call Caroline Kent's friends in England − because his own superiors in China couldn't be trusted − and tell them what he had seen. His mobile phone had been confiscated when they’d caught him, just in case. 
 He continued on his circuit of the building, all the time keeping close to the wall, until he arrived back at the loading bay. There he paused, scratching his head and sighing. He hadn't found Chris, and he couldn't linger here any longer. The narrow escape he'd had earlier inclined him to be cautious. He must get out of here before his luck turned and he was recaptured.  
 Then he heard footsteps approaching the loading bay.  Immediately he ran for the jeep, jumped in and trod on the accelerator.  
 Hearing the sound of the vehicle, the four guards ran into the bay. They saw the jeep start off across the tarmac, ran a few yards after it and then stopped.
 Ho swung the wheel. Turning, the jeep shot across the tarmac apron towards the perimeter fence, smashing straight through it and onto the rough, bumpy track which served as an access road to the complex.
 The guards ran back inside the building to find out exactly what had been going on.  

Chris stepped through yet another door, finding himself this time in a featureless corridor with walls of concrete blocks painted dull grey. He turned to the left, and ahead of him saw a partition blocking off the corridor, a steel and wood frame with a door in it.  
 The door was not locked. He guessed that if all the staff here were hypnotised zombies, there was no danger of them going anywhere they weren't supposed to.  
 He went through it into a large room a section of which was closed off by another partition. Part of it was of toughened glass, part brick, and in the brick bit was a massive steel door with a combination lock. The surface of the glass was clouded and you couldn't see what lay behind it.  
 Then he realised it was cobwebs. The whole of the interior of the room beyond was festooned with them. In the dull green light which seemed to permeate it the masses of the stuff formed strange, sinister, ghostly shapes.  
 His eyes moved on, travelling the length of the great glass wall. They hadn't got far when he gave a cry of alarm and jumped back a couple of paces.  
 Clinging to the inside of the glass, about ten feet up, was an enormous spider. It was bigger, he could have sworn, than a tarantula or that bird-eating kind you found in the jungles of South America, which were supposed to be the largest in the world. He didn't object to either of those, finding them vaguely cuddly and understanding, sort of, why some people kept them as pets. But this didn't look like either species; more like a house spider, grossly enlarged, with its sleek black body and long spindly legs. There was another species of tarantula, smaller than the tropical kind, found among other places in southern Europe and the deserts of the western USA; maybe this was it. But it was bigger than you'd normally find, with a leg span that would cover a dinner plate.
 The spider shifted its position, seeming to become aware of his presence. Chris felt an indescribable shiver travel through his body.  
 It was looking straight at him. He could clearly see the squat, hideous cephalothorax with its cluster of glassy, bulging black eyes. There was something in their look that made him recoil, and filled him with an unpleasant sensation of surprise, something horribly disorientating; he was reluctant to accept it, but he felt sure that what he saw in them was...was...
Intelligence.  
 Steeling himself, he stepped up close to the wall and peered closer.  
 If it was a tarantula...he wasn't aware that they spun webs, as opposed to just hiding in holes in the ground or behind rocks waiting for prey to come by. This kind did. In proportion to the spider itself the web was much bigger, in appearance the same as that of an ordinary spider back home in England, but spanning twenty or thirty feet. A magnificent, beautiful, but somehow sinister sight.  
 The spider scuttled down the sheet of glass, moving so fast that in an instant it was directly the other side to him, its beady eyes fixed squarely on him face. With a cry of revulsion he turned away.  
 Chris saw that he wasn't in a room so much as a broad corridor. One side was just a bare wall, the other a continuous glass screen looking onto a series of rooms − laboratories − each with a central workbench on which bunsen burners, test tubes and other equipment were set out, and racks full of metal containers and thick glass jars in which liquids of all colours swirled. Looking more closely into one of the labs he saw incubators, giant fermentation vats, medicine cabinets, autoclaves for sterilising instruments, racks containing more test tubes, round plastic dishes filled with a colourless jelly which must contain plague cultures. There were also a number of cages; he couldn't see what was in them, just got an impression of unidentifiable shapes scurrying about.  
 Then a much bigger room with tanks full of water, in which fish and other marine creatures swam. Finally the glass screen came to an end and he was facing a row of huge steel cages, the interiors of which seemed to be darkened. From within he could hear snuffling, grunting and snarling noises, and every few moments a terrifying bellow.
 Inside the one nearest to him, something very big was moving about, from time to time crashing into the bars of the cage and causing them to vibrate. Whether it was mammal, reptile or something else entirely he couldn't see and didn't want to. He could glimpse little more than a dark shape with a suggestion of a tail; from the fluorescent strips in the ceiling of the corridor light glimmered off a suggestion of an eye. He decided he'd seen enough. Fearfully he turned round, dreading that the spider had got out of its cage and was creeping up behind him ready to jump. Fortunately it wasn't. Unfortunately a man in a white laboratory smock, pointing an automatic pistol straight at his chest, was. 

    


THIRTY-SEVEN
The road ahead was winding and bumpy, shaking the jeep violently as it lurched and shuddered along. The uncomfortable ride, however, was the least of Ho's worries.  If they came after him, he had no weapons with which to defend himself. And he wasn't sure if he was even heading in the right direction.
 He glanced through his rear mirror, and froze. A second jeep was coming after him. A man with a rifle was leaning out of the window, aiming the weapon at his vehicle.
He heard a bullet ricochet off the jeep's body. Then another. 
 It would only be a matter of time before one hit a tyre or shattered the windscreen. Or did any one of a dozen things Ho didn't want it to. 
 The jeep was now hidden from their view behind an outcrop of rock, around which the road bent, but the men in the pursuing vehicle heard it slow down and then screech to a sharp halt.  Their quarry had abandoned it and was trying his luck on foot, hoping to keep out of their sight as he scrambled from one rock to another.
 A couple of minutes later they pulled to a stop beside the vehicle. They jumped out and split into two groups of two, one heading to the left and the other to the right. They began moving slowly from rock to rock, their eyes sweeping the surrounding terrain for a glimpse of their quarry. 
 A few minutes passed. In the back of Ho's jeep a tarpaulin-covered jumble of spare parts shifted and collapsed as Ho wriggled out from underneath it, having judged the moment was right. He was careful to make as little noise as possible as he climbed out of the vehicle and crept over to the other jeep.
 This had to be quick. Before long, when they failed to find him, they would guess what he had done and run back to the vehicles.
 He still had the crowbar with him. Reasoning they were too far away to hear the noise he would make, he crouched by the side of the enemy jeep and began hammering at the metal of the petrol tank until he had bashed a sizeable hole in it.  The colourless liquid began to pour out, in a thin but steady stream.
 Ho scurried back to his own vehicle and jumped in. When he started the engine, the sound reached the ears of the hunting men and they spun round in surprise, which turned swiftly to alarm as they saw the jeep race off with Ho waving to them cheerily from the driver's seat. They got off a few shots at it as it roared away into the distance, but were too far away to shoot with precision and the bullets bounced harmlessly off the jeep's bodywork.
 They ran back to their vehicle, intending to give chase, only to skid to a halt and stare in dismay at the spreading pool of liquid which was staining the road around it. 

When Claire Montgomery had read Fujiori's letter for the fifth time, she put it down and after a moment or two's indecision crossed to where his photo sat. She glanced down at it one last time, then tossed it into the bin.
 "A friend of yours..." He could only mean the Kent girl, surely. Had she...
 She now felt a little guilty. She hadn't been meaning to kill him. But she had embarked on a crusade to obtain an apology, had got Caroline to go out there and speak to him, and this was the result.  
 Now it had been done, though, she could at least compensate for it by enjoying what remained of her own life, as Fujiori had wanted. She'd already lived most of it in a messed-up state, but spoiling the rest wouldn't make the world a better place.  
 Physically she was an old woman and would stay that way.  But inside, she felt younger by ten years.  
Twenty. Thirty. Forty. Fifty.
Sixty.  

Caroline came through the doors of the departure lounge and paused, scanning the masses of people thronging the foyer of Terminal Three. Her face lit up as she saw her parents, looking this way and that to get a glimpse of her, and she eased her way through the crowd towards them. "Mum! Dad!"
 They spun round to see her waving at them, and started making their way in her direction. 
 Her mother hugged her for a good couple of minutes, weeping buckets, while Caroline as always smiled patiently. Her father embraced her with equal affection, but as he let go of her his eyes were hard.  
 "If you weren't a big girl now I'd put you over my knee and spank you," he told her.  
"Well, I am a big girl," she replied crossly. "So you can't."
 He jabbed a finger at her. "So you may be," he said, raising his voice. "But that doesn't give you the right to − "
 "Not here, dear," said Margaret, tugging at his sleeve. "Please."
 Edward led them to a corner of the foyer which seemed reasonably secluded. There he turned to his daughter. "We need to talk, lass," he sighed. 
"Not now," she said feelingly. "I'm not in the mood."
"Oh, so you're not in the mood. Well I'm telling you now, you stupid little - "
"Chris has gone missing," she snapped.  
 Edward softened. "Oh," he murmured, casting his eyes downward. Then he straightened, meeting hers. "Because he was trying to find you," he pointed out grimly.
"I know," sobbed Caroline, and burst into tears.

YC Electronics, London
In his office Yu Chen, alias Dr Fu Manchu, put away the routine paperwork he had been working on as his mobile phone bleeped.
 It was Dr Krogl, speaking from the complex in Gansu. "Something has happened of which you should be aware. It may be dangerous for us."
"What is it?" he asked, tensing slightly as he prepared to absorb the news. 
 Krogl told him of Ho's escape. "We do not know how much he saw. But I thought you should know. We're doing our best to catch him. We still have the Englishman, Barrett."
 Dr Fu Manchu allowed himself a moment or two's contemplation. "Continue the search for Ho," he ordered, in a voice that to those who heard him use it always seemed both soft and harsh. "Either bring him back or kill him, whichever seems easier."
"What if he manages to contact the authorities?"  
 "We will deal with that as it comes. Obey your instructions.  In the meantime, we must continue with the whole plan. Is there anything else you wished to report?"
"No, that is all."
 "Keep me informed." Dr Fu Manchu turned off the mobile and sat back to ponder the situation.     
 It might come to nothing, if they could find Ho and deal with him. In the meantime his agent in London might as well continue with the task he had been set. And as he had told his subordinate their wider plan, too, must proceed uninterrupted. 

All Edward's anger towards his daughter, and Margaret's, had been abated by Caroline's tears, and they decided it would be best if she went home and had a good rest, while making it clear that they wouldn't mind a long chat about things at some point.  
 She felt a rest was exactly what she needed. So, saying goodbye to them, she collected her car from the airport car park and went home. 
 As she opened the door Jack, her tabby cat, immediately came to greet her mewing delightedly, his tail high in the air. She scooped him up in her arms and cuddled him to her, rubbing her cheek against his. "Yes, that's right. Mummy came home, didn't she, like she said she would."
 She noticed a square of white lying on the mat at her feet. Putting Jack down gently, she picked up the envelope, which had no name on it, no address and no stamp. She ripped it open and took out a folded scrap of paper. Opening it out, she found a simple message composed of letters cut from newspaper headlines and pasted on with Prittstick.  
 "Weve got your friend Chris and the policeman poke your nose in again and theyve had it just a friendly warning theyll be OK if you don't interfere." She pondered the message for some time, while at her feet Jack miaowed impatiently for his supper. Eventually she closed the door behind her and went into the kitchen. Once she’d fed the cat she sat down at the table to think, a fist knuckled into her forehead.
 Oh Chris, she thought, tears springing to her eyes again.  He'd tried to help her and been kidnapped himself, along with Ho bless him. She had no idea how Ho had come to be involved; whether Chris had gone to see him in case he could help find her, or he'd been acting on his own initiative.  
 Either Dr Fu Manchu, or those working for him, were now holding the two of them. She had to rescue them. But that itself would endanger their lives. She felt a sense of relief that it excused her putting herself in danger, followed by a pang of guilt at the thought.
 The police would search for them, of course, but she doubted they'd get anywhere.  
 She sensed they would be OK if she just did what she was told. Dr Fu Manchu seemed a man of honour despite what he was doing − she still couldn't figure that out  − and she doubted he would harm her friends without good reason. At the same time, Chris and Ho would obviously prefer to be free. The thought of their captivity would be a source of constant anguish to her.  
 Many times, in the past, Chris had saved her from a fate worse than death; in Russia, in South America, in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, on a North Sea oil rig. And she had never really paid him back what she owed him. It nagged at her more than she liked to admit.  
With a sigh she set about preparing her own dinner. Life had to go on.  
 After she had eaten she got her papers together and went out to her car. She wasn't due at the company for another couple of hours, but felt the sooner she got there and buried herself in her work the better. It would take her mind off Chris.  
 As she finished locking the front door she heard someone call out from close by. She looked round. A car had pulled up to the kerb outside the house; a white man was at the wheel while a black one sat in the back. As she came up to the vehicle the driver wound down the window and leaned through it to speak to her. "Excuse me," he repeated. He appeared to be brandishing a folded-out map.
 She went over to him. "Where are you looking for?" she smiled. 
 Then she froze as the map fell away to reveal his hand clutching an automatic pistol. It was pointed straight at her. "Get in, Miss Kent. And don't give us any trouble, please love."
 After the initial shock she hesitated. Would they really shoot her in broad daylight? Could she make a break for it? 
 She was still trying to decide what to do when a hand was clamped over her mouth. The black guy had got out of the car. 
He wrapped his other arm tightly around her waist. She bit him hard, sinking her teeth deep into his fingers and drawing blood, but although he gave a little gasp of pain his grip on her didn't relax for an instant.  
 They moved like lightning, the driver scrambling from the vehicle and opening the door while his colleague dragged Caroline towards it, thrusting her inside and then jumping in himself. He slammed the door shut and the car raced off down the street.
 In the back Caroline was struggling to break free from the black man's grip so she could reach the button that wound down the window. If she could lean out and shout for help...
 With a savage heave she broke loose, dodging him as he tried to grab her again. He managed to grasp her wrists, holding them in an unbreakable vice-like grip. She twisted and thrashed in helpless fury. From the grin on the man's face he was enjoying the tussle.  
 Suddenly he let go. Immediately she threw herself at the button, but before she could press it something hard and metallic struck her on the back of the head and she felt a short, sharp pain. Then everything dissolved into black oblivion.  
 A little later she heard someone talking, their words becoming clearer as she returned to full consciousness. "Doesn't she look lovely when she's asleep," they said.
 The black man must have given her a tap on the head with the butt of his gun, just enough to knock her out without doing any real damage. All she had was a mild headache which she guessed would soon be gone. They must be professionals.  
 She had been placed on a sofa in a spacious, luxuriously furnished room whose floor was covered by an ankle-deep carpet. The air was filled with the scent of an unidentifiable perfume, mingling with the odour of rose- and sandalwood. Porcelain vases and urns, beautifully painted with floral designs, were laid out in a row on a sideboard. On a table beside the TV stood a lamp with a frame of painted silk and a wooden stand carved in the shape of an old Chinese beggar. To her it all looked very familiar. Had Dr Fu Manchu...
She'd find out soon enough, she supposed.
 From where Caroline lay she could see large French windows looking out onto a broad expanse of garden fringed with trees and shrubs. The sweet sounds of birdsong and the scents that filled the room might have had a soothing effect on her if she had been in the mood to appreciate them.
 She sprang to her feet and looked around. The two men who had abducted her were standing before her with arms folded, regarding her amusedly.  
"Had a good nap?" the white one enquired.  
She ignored him, returning his gaze coldly.
 She studied the men warily, appraising them. They were big, powerfully-built specimens, and obviously not the type you messed with if you had half a brain. But she sensed they weren't the ones in charge. Who exactly were they working for?
 The black man took out his gun. He pressed the barrel to his own forehead and pulled the trigger; it clicked harmlessly.  "Bang," he said.
 "Very funny," Caroline replied, putting on her famous Look. "You brought me here under false pretences."
 "Oh, oh, I see," said the man animatedly, putting on an anxious-to-please expression. "You want us to kill you.  Sorry, we didn't realise." He looked to his colleague. "What shall we do to her then? Boil her in oil? Cut her up into little bits and − "
 "You can drop the funny business," she snapped. "You're giving me the creeps, if it's any consolation. Who are you then? No, I polished them off a while ago. al-Qaeda? You don't look it. Triads again?  Don't think so, somehow. Oh, I give up." She threw herself back onto the sofa.
 The black man held up his hand, two of whose fingers had plasters around them where Caroline had bitten him. "That wasn't very nice," he said reprovingly. 
 "It wasn't very nice having your blood in my mouth. How do I know you haven't got AIDS?"
"You're so cute when you're angry, you know that," said the white man.
 "Hmph," said Caroline. But she was still more annoyed than frightened. And at least they hadn't been so uncivil as to tie her up.
 "What I'd like is to be told what this is all about," she said firmly. "If it's a joke it's gone far enough. So let's stop all this − "
 At that moment her ears caught the sound of the door opening. It opened so quietly as to be barely audible. She turned, and immediately found herself struck dumb.
 Moving with soundless, cat-like grace, a woman entered the room. She was strikingly beautiful. After the wide, finely-sculpted cheekbones the first thing Caroline noticed about her were her eyes. Green eyes were not especially common, and as soon as she saw them she knew instinctively where she had seen them before. It tied in with the feline gait and the furnishings of the room.
 There was a faraway, dreamy look in those eyes, that face, which sat perfectly in harmony with the level-headedness and self-possession the woman exuded. It was impossible to identify which ethnic group she belonged to, and Caroline eventually decided she was of mixed ancestry. The facial structure was Mongoloid, but no more so than is occasionally found on people in the West, the skin around her eyes lacking the characteristic epicanthic folds. Her hair was dark, but with reddish highlights that appeared to be natural, her skin a creamy white.  
 Her face...now her face had a curious ageless quality which was a little unsettling. All you could say was that she might perhaps be in her thirties or early forties. It rather seemed as if she had become stuck at that age and was quite unable to advance any further, whether or not she wanted to. 
 Caroline had stood up immediately on taking in the woman’s appearance, the aura she gave off; something commanded it. Now the woman smiled at her and gestured to her to sit. The girl found herself accepting the invitation automatically. She had already been on the point of realising that whatever was going on here, she was in no real danger. It was the combination of civility and authority which tipped the scales. "Thankyou," she said graciously, altogether somewhat taken aback. Despite the sense the woman gave of being distant her manner still came over as polite, without any trace of offhandedness. 
 The Eurasian seated herself in a cane chair, hooking one knee over the other. She folded her hands in her lap. The two heavies stepped back a little, respectfully, and stood with their hands clasped in front of them awaiting further orders. She dismissed them with an almost imperceptible inclination of her head. Both gave Caroline a friendly nod as they left.  
She glanced expectantly at their mistress. 
 "You are perfectly at liberty to leave whenever you want, Miss Kent," the Eurasian said. "You do not have enough evidence to secure a conviction, nor would either the general public or those in authority believe you were you to tell them the truth about me. But I would appreciate it very much if you would stay a while."
 Her voice was clear, bell-like, melodious, and the most beautiful sound Caroline had ever heard.  
 "You will be wondering why I had you brought you here," she continued.
"They all say that," Caroline replied with a smile. 
 "It is because we have a common adversary; and also, I believe, a common means of operating. You like to work on your own. So do I, but for different reasons."
"I see. Do you feel like telling me who you are?"
 The Eurasian gave a short laugh. "I am not sure that you would believe me."
"Try me," Caroline said.  
 "Very well. Legally my name is Mrs Esther van Groenewegen, and I am the widow of a wealthy American businessman. In fact I am Fah Lo Suee, daughter of Dr Fu Manchu."
 "I thought I'd seen those eyes before somewhere. His daughter? So how old are you, then?"
 "Last month, Miss Kent, I celebrated my one hundred and thirtieth birthday."
 "Call me Caroline. And I bet your kids are a hundred and ninety-nine respectively."
 Fah Lo Suee's eyes closed for a moment, as if in pain. She lowered her head. The look in her eyes, in her whole face, sent a wave of compassion sweeping through Caroline.  
"I have no children," she said quietly.
 Immediately Caroline felt a sharp pang of guilt and embarrassment. "I'm sorry," she whispered, leaning a little towards Fah Lo Suee. "Why is that?"
"I will tell you later. So, you've met my father?"
"Once or twice."
 "I don't know if he explained to you about the elixir."  Caroline nodded.  
 "I too have been taking it. One of the companies under my control is secretly manufacturing it for my own personal use.  Now, as my father may have explained to you, although it prevents any further ageing it does not reverse the ageing process.  
 "Everlasting life brings boredom, Caroline, and yet the thought of death is terrifying. I cannot bring myself to step into that dark abyss because I don't know what − if anything − lies at the bottom of it.  
 "If I had children I would want them to live eternally, as I will. I could not bear to see them grow old and die before my eyes. I would at least give them the choice whether to take the elixir. And I fear that they would take it.  
 "I don't want them to be trapped forever in this life, this world...in a place where expectations are never entirely fulfilled, where pleasures grow stale after a time, and where they could still suffer injury, hardship or mental pain because the elixir does not prevent those things happening.
 "There is another reason why I am childless. If I had children Dr Fu Manchu would try to claim them as his own. I wished to spare them from his attentions; from having to spend their lives in evading him." Again the sadness in Fah Lo Suee's voice brought a lump to Caroline's throat. 
 "You believed what my father had to tell you, then?" the Eurasian said.
 "I've seen some bloody weird things in my time, I can tell you. Although of course my time hasn't been anywhere near as long as yours. No, I could believe it quite easily."
"Interesting," said Fah Lo Suee. "We shall have much to talk about."
 "I'm sure. But I wouldn't mind being allowed to go home at some point, if that's all right with you."  
 "As I said, you are free to go at any time. But don't we have some business to conduct first?" The woman's voice was polite but firm. "After all, young women from a variety of races are being used for sex without their consent. You want to put a stop to that, do you not?"
 "Too right I do," agreed Caroline. "But was it really necessary to kidnap me?"
 "You will forgive me. I have got into the habit of using such methods. I must also apologise for Shane and Joe, whose sense of humour often gets the better of them." Fah Lo Suee crossed to the mantelpiece, where lay a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. "Do you mind if I smoke? It is not ordinary tobacco."
"Fine by me."
 Fah Lo Suee lit a cigarette and reseated herself. The sweet scent of whatever it was she was smoking began to pervade the room. "If it were to be discovered who I was, I would become the centre of everyone's attention, which would soon grow tiresome. And a scientific guinea pig. And all I have ever wanted is happiness, the freedom to live as I please...
 "I have had to change my identity several times. Otherwise people would become suspicious, and begin to realise the truth. In my time I have been many women. I have been Mrs van Roorden, I have been Ceciline de Parmentier, I have been the Baroness Alicia Rostropov, I have been Gerda Klemperer..." She sighed. "Nothing is permanent. Nothing lasts, except life itself and its endless, monotonous routines.
 "To protect myself from Fu Manchu and keep my identity from the world at large I have had to operate like a criminal, to think as a criminal would. One problem with having a long life is that your money eventually runs out. I have no wish to be eternally poor. Most of my wealth is obtained through illegal activities, though they are governed by a strict code of conduct, and a certain percentage of the profits are devoted to charity. But if it were not necessary, I would not involve myself in such things. Nor do I kill except when I have to." 
 She took another puff on the cigarette. "So, my father decided to spare your life. He is honourable, in his own way." A certain regret showed in her beautiful face for a moment, as if at how things might have been. "He will not kill you unless you become a serious threat to his plans, or if he feels it is necessary to teach others a lesson; then he will take your life regardless of who you are, your race or sex. That is his way. But what did you learn from your meetings with him?"
 "Nothing, really. He didn't tell me any of his plan. I guess he couldn't have let me go if he had. He just said he needed the money from the white slave operation for some project he was working on. But he didn't any more because the project was almost complete."  
 Fah Lo Suee frowned, pursing her lips. "You're sure there's nothing else you can tell me?"
 "Well, he tried to hypnotise me at one point but didn't get anywhere." Caroline grinned triumphantly. "And he also suggested we should, er, get together. He wanted me to have a child by him. He thought a son from the two of us − he specifically said son {again she wrinkled her nose at the chauvinism}− would be the stuff of which leaders are made.  He said he thought racial admixture was the key to increasing intelligence."
 Fah Lo Suee nodded. "It was always one of his most cherished beliefs. My mother was a white woman...I barely remember her.  It was long ago...so long ago."   
 Once more Caroline found herself indescribably moved by the sad, beautiful voice. She saw that Fah Lo Suee had lost herself in her memories. Her head was tilted forward, her eyes were partly closed. 
 She came out of her reverie. "He regards me as a disappointment, a failure, because I do not obey his will. Because I want my own life." Again that indescribable aura of sadness. "Your child would have been a replacement for me.  The heir to the world he seeks to create. That is why he sought to possess, to control me. The Si-Fan branded their mark upon my shoulder; it took thousands of pounds' worth of plastic surgery to erase it."
"The Si-Fan?"
 "The Seven. It began hundreds of years ago as a Chinese secret society. Under my father's leadership it became a council with seven members, not necessarily Chinese. Its aim was nothing less than world domination, with him as overall ruler. What has happened to it I have no idea. My father was deposed as its president, but if it has disbanded I imagine he will have resurrected it under his control." Fah Lo Suee's shoulders slumped. "I thought I was free of him forever," she said wearily. "I thought he must be dead. Then when Yu Chen became prominent, when his picture started appearing in  newspapers and on television, I realised he was back. And I knew he must be planning something, some new scheme of world conquest. I had to find out what it was. If he ever does achieve his aims I would not be safe from him. He would be able to locate me, capture me, mate me with someone of his choice to produce a child who he would keep in his power while he groomed them to be his successor.
 "I had a spy among his associates, but unfortunately the man was discovered and killed." Fah Lo Suee winced in pain. "I knew "Yu Chen" was the one ultimately behind the white slave trade in South-East Asia. But I knew there must be more to it than that, that the slaving operation must conceal something even more dangerous, on a global scale at any rate.
 "Before I acted I needed to find out what you had learned, in case it made any difference to my plans. There would have been no sense in both of us going around trying to expose Fu Manchu, covering the same ground. Much better to combine our resources. I attempted to approach you in Hong Kong and Tokyo, but both times Fu Manchu got to you first."
 "Couldn't you tell the Chinese government what Yu Chen is up to?"
 “There still isn't enough evidence. In any case I doubt they would do anything. There is too much corruption in China at the moment; no-one would mind if he was importing foreign girls for sex. It would have to be something far more serious than that."
"How did you know I was on the case, by the way?"
 "As I indicated, I have my spies," Fah Lo Suee replied, and left it at that. "Although they cannot be everywhere.
 "To the world Dr Fu Manchu is at best a myth," she observed. "But you have seen him, spoken with him. You can vouch for his existence. No-one else will believe me."
 "No-one will believe either of us. It's all going to sound too incredible. But surely there's some official record of your father's existence, something that'll show people we're telling the truth?"
 "Not that I have been able to establish. All files on Fu Manchu appear to have been destroyed. Quite why I have not been able to establish."
 "We must find some clue to what he's doing and then go to the authorities with it. And if his "project" is nearly complete, that means we'll have to be quick. I've got links with MI6 − that would help." Her head sank. "The thing is, he's got two of my friends prisoner and he's threatened to kill them if I don't stop getting involved."
 "You don't have to be involved,” Fah Lo Suee told her. "You can leave everything to me now, if you like."
 "I'd like to be in on this if I could. I owe Chris a lot.  But actually putting his life in danger rather defeats the objective."
 Fah Lo Suee thought for a moment. "You only have "links" with MI6. What does that mean?"
 Caroline explained her situation with regard to the security services. "I used to work for them and I still do the odd job for them occasionally. You never really leave the business. So at the moment I suppose I'm a sort of unofficial secret agent." 
 "So have many others been, from time to time. To take a well-known example the tycoon Maxwell, Robert Maxwell, worked for the Israeli Mossad. At the moment it seems my father regards you essentially as an adventurer. But if you involve yourself with MI6 in this matter, the chances are he will soon know of your links with them. In his eyes you will only be doing what would be expected of you. And once they are brought into this, it will cease to be a personal contest between you and him. And it is understandable that you would not have told him of your connections. By his standards, he will see no justification in hurting you through your friends."
 Caroline broke into a delighted grin. "Let's get started, then," she said.
    


THIRTY-EIGHT
The massive thick tyres and rugged, compact body of the jeep had coped with the uneven, rut-riddled road surface but it had been a bumpy, uncomfortable, bone-shaking ride. And during his journey Ho had seen no evidence of habitation anywhere save for a few scattered, abandoned ruins. 
 At least there had been no sign of his pursuers. But he couldn't afford to take things for granted. It was obvious their enemies had agents everywhere; someone in Hong Kong had warned someone in Shanghai that he and Chris were on their trail. They would surely try to intercept him before he could reach the nearest place from which he could contact British Intelligence.  
 And out here, where there would almost certainly be no-one watching, was the best place to do it.  
 So far he had come across no other vehicle. But all the time he kept his eyes trained on the horizon, on the point where the road ahead disappeared into it.  
 Suddenly he tensed. A black shape had appeared in the distance; a moving black shape.  
Then another.  
Two vehicles, heading straight towards him.  
 He couldn't take any chances. They might be totally harmless. Or they might not.  
 Two vehicles, cars or maybe something bigger − he couldn't tell at the moment − packed full of men who were probably carrying guns. If they were who he feared they might be.  
 He had already worked out what he would do. If they weren't enemy, they would merely think his behaviour odd. Or they would become suspicious and report him to the police; and if the police should stop him, he'd just have to explain everything to them and take it from there. 
 He waited, his lips pursed grimly, his heart pounding ever faster, until the moving shapes resolved themselves into a pair of jeeps.
 He swung the wheel of his vehicle to the left. The jeep veered off the road, bumping over the uneven rocky ground.  It drove on, taking it away from the road at a wide curving angle.  
 He glanced behind and to the right. And saw that the pursuit jeeps had also left the road and were roaring after him, swerving whenever an outcrop of rock loomed up before them.  
 They had seen the change of direction and guessed what it meant; the driver of the jeep was Ho and he was trying to evade them.
Could he lose them?
At the moment he was out of range.  
 But steadily, they were gaining on him. Soon they would be close enough to shoot.
 There were already an alarming number of holes in the body of his jeep. He wondered just how much more punishment it could take. Glancing again through his rear mirror, he saw a man lean out of one of the windows of the lead jeep and aim a rifle at him. He ducking his head down and heard the bullet spang off his vehicle's bodywork.  
If one should chance to hit the windscreen...
 He trod as hard as he could on the accelerator, and the jeep shot forward at maximum speed.  
 Out of range again, he slowed down to avoid a mass of rock. But the pursuit vehicles had also increased their speed. 
 They could keep this up indefinitely, Ho thought. Until eventually he ran out of petrol. At a guess, he had been going longer than they had.   
 His route was taking him further and further away from the road. And he didn't want to lose his bearings.
 The boom of an explosion rang in his ears and a violent tremor ran through the body of the jeep. 
They'd thrown a grenade at him.  
 Again he slammed his foot down hard, and the vehicle surged forward even faster, increasing the distance between itself and its pursuers. It bumped even more violently, making him bounce up and down like a piledriver.  
 Another grenade went off behind him, and again the vehicle lurched and shuddered as the shock waves buffeted it.
At the moment he was still just out of firing range.  
 He swerved to avoid another rock, and the pursuit jeeps swerved too, keeping him within their sights.
 Ho knew that a grenade could damage his vehicle far more than a bullet would. And one might find its mark at any moment.  
 His mind was racing. If he got back to the main road, where he could move faster, before they did he could have a head start on them.  
Which would give him time to think. 
 He swung the Land Rover to the right and headed back towards the road, driving as fast as the rough terrain allowed. Once or twice he struck a boulder a glancing blow and a cold pang of fear stabbed through him as he feared the vehicle would overturn. But it stayed upright, although once he went over onto two wheels for a moment, before the left side of the jeep slammed down with an impact that would have caused him to shoot up out of his seat like a jack-in-the-box if he hadn't been strapped in.
 He was sure they must have guessed what he intended. He tried all the time to keep ahead of the pursuit jeeps, in case one should split from the other and try to head him off.  He had no time to look round to see if it had done so, for a second's distraction could be fatal. He dismissed the thought from his mind, concentrating only on reaching the strip of tarmac a hundred yards ahead.
He swerved again.
 He shot onto the road so fast he almost went right across it, into the rocks and scrub on the other side. Yanking the wheel to the left he raced off into the distance, now travelling forward in a straight line.
 Glancing leftward, he saw his guess was correct; one of the jeeps had turned away from the other and was making for the road to head him off. But it had slowed, in case it burst onto the road at the same time that he turned to the left and the two vehicles collided, and was still several hundred yards from him. In a moment he had gone past it.  
 For the next few seconds Ho drove faster than he had ever driven in his life. He was sure he could smell the acrid stench of burning rubber as he pushed the vehicle to the limits of its tolerance. The needle on the speedometer was hovering just beyond the danger mark.  
 The jeep that had tried to head him off had stopped a few yards from the road to let the other, which was now back on the road and coming up fast behind Ho, go past it. Once it had gone by it started again, drove onto the road and spun round with a screech of protesting rubber before hurtling off after its fellow and Ho.
 Ahead, Ho looked back briefly and saw that the lead jeep was beginning to close the distance between him and it.  
 He had wanted time to think. It seemed he was going to have to do it fast. 
 He struggled hard not to panic, to marshal his thoughts properly. In a few moments he might have lost his chance. 
 There was a big rock formation coming up on his left, a couple of hundred yards on.
He swung the wheel to the left. Then the right.  
Left again. Right. Left. Left, right, left, right.
 The men in the pursuit jeeps saw him veer from side to side, right across the road and then back, repeatedly.
 The man at the wheel of the lead jeep smiled; one of their bullets must have hit some vital part. The policeman was in trouble. 
 Ho's jeep drew level with the outcrop of rock on the left. Then, swerving right off the road, it vanished behind it, and didn’t reappear. Its engine spluttered and died.  
 He must know they wouldn't let him pull the same trick twice. This time he really would run off and try to hide in the scrub and rocks around them. They must get to the abandoned jeep as soon as possible, so he'd have less of a start on them.  
 Before stopping the jeep Ho had turned it round so that its nose was pointing towards the road. He had the driver's door wide open, and was standing beside the vehicle reaching into the cabin with one arm, his hand poised above the starter lever.  
 He listened carefully to the sound of the pursuit jeeps' engines; they had not reduced speed. It made sense to drive straight to where he was, rather than stop before the outcrop and waste time walking round it to reach the vehicle.
 He went on listening. Still they didn't slow down to stop. They could not have gauged with perfect accuracy how far on from the outcrop he was, and the mass of rock hid the jeep from their view.
 They drew nearer, the sound of their engines growing louder.  Ho tried to judge the moment.  
Now? No...not yet...
Another few seconds...
Louder...louder...
Any moment now...
 He heard them finally start to slow, the pitch of their engines changing.
 Ho restarted the engine, revved it up to full throttle and trod hard on the accelerator. An instant later he hurled himself through the open door, twisting over onto one side as he fell and bringing up his hands to protect his face as he hit the rocky ground.
 The jeep shot out from behind the rock formation and onto the road, directly in front of the oncoming vehicles. Still going much too fast, the one in the lead was unable to save itself in time. It struck Ho's jeep head on, the impact crumpling its nose like a concertina and shattering the windscreen, and flipped clean over it, performing a spectacular somersault before finally landing tortoise-like on its back.  
 The impact had knocked Ho's jeep over onto its side. The second pursuit jeep smashed into it and folded up, pushing it a few yards along to collide with the overturned first pursuit jeep, striking it at an angle and knocking it off the road. 
 Bruised and aching, Ho had managed to run halfway round the rock formation before the petrol in the tanks of the three vehicles ignited. The explosion sent him sprawling at its foot and he screamed in pain as the wave of intense heat swept over him, searing his skin. He pressed himself tightly against it and into the ground at the same time, arms wrapped around his head, as the heat beat at him. 
 Panicking, he sprang to his feet and ran, until he could no longer feel the heat so much. Turning, he stood watching the pile of twisted wreckage as it burned, sheets of orange-yellow fire billowing up. There was no way anyone could have survived.  
 An aching sadness filled him as he gazed into the flames. He had always felt that the job of a policeman was to protect lives, not destroy them. It was certainly a Christian’s. These men, criminals though they were, had still been the fruit of God's labour, brought into the world through a woman's womb. He hoped with all his heart that they had been under hypnosis, like the workers in the strange factory he had left behind him a few hours before. Then maybe they would not have been responsible for their actions. If they had, they would now face their Maker with no hope of redemption.
He said a quick prayer, then turned and trudged wearily away.

"There's no love lost between you, it seems," Caroline commented.
 Fah Lo Suee was driving them through the suburbs of North London towards Fu Manchu's house. It was a few minutes past midnight.  
 "He is my father," replied the Eurasian. "And in his own way he is honourable. That is why he let you go. But he is...he is mad. His desire for power is obsessive; it leads him to harm those he loves.  Not only they but the world at large must be protected from it."  
"Are you in any danger from him right now?" Caroline asked.
 Fah Lo Suee shook her head. "He grew tired of looking for me in the end. And since I have not shown myself in the time since he reappeared, he is probably not thinking of resuming the pursuit. We have not seen each other since 1952, which was the last time he tried to press me back into his service. I could expose him, but as I said no-one would believe me. So he has little to fear from me."
 They fell silent. After a while, Fah Lo Suee swung the wheel and they turned off the main road down a tree-fringed lane off which stood on each side a row of attractive houses, some modern and some dating back to the early years of the twentieth century.  
 "Here it is," Fah Lo Suee announced as they came to the last of the houses. It was built in a mock Georgian style, the front door enclosed within a wide columned porch. 
 The car slowed and pulled into the curb a few yards from the beginning of the driveway. Both dressed in black tracksuits to blend in with the darkness, with gloves to avoid leaving any fingerprints while they were in the house, the two women got out of the car and crept up the gravel path to the front door.  
 They knew they were taking a risk. They had not been able to ring the house, pretending to be from a telephone canvassing company, earlier on to find out if anyone was there, because Yu Chen was ex-directory, no doubt as a means of guarding his privacy. But they had to start somewhere. If it came to the worst and the police decided to make an appearance Caroline could always mention her connections with MI6, and they'd take it from there. 
 Fah Lo Suee took an electric lock-opening device, shaped like a TV remote control, from the bag slung over her shoulder, along with a purse containing the various kinds of pick it used. Selecting the type she wanted, she inserted one end of it in the device and the other in the lock, then switched the device on. The electric current bounced the pins in the lock until they were aligned, causing the lock to open.  
 Caroline reflected on the time when she had herself used such gadgets. But there was no need to be a spy to gain access to them. Outfits such as Fah Lo Suee's were in possession of increasingly sophisticated espionage equipment, obtained from God knew where.
 Both she and Fah Lo Suee had handguns concealed in their pockets, just in case. Caroline fingered hers nervously, hoping to God she wouldn't have to use it. 
 Gently, Fah Lo Suee pushed open the door and they entered the hallway. Caroline closed the door behind them and they switched on their torches. Splitting up, the two of them began their search. Within everything was silent save for the occasional gurgling of the water in the central heating pipes. 
 Like that of all Dr Fu Manchu’s habitats the décor was traditional Chinese, with silken tapestries hanging on the walls and wooden screens partitioning the rooms. Everywhere was overflowing with antiques, most but by no means all Oriental; dragon statuettes in jade or porcelain, ornamental vases, suits of armour, Egyptian mummy cases and jackal-headed idols, funerary urns, Roman amphora, and bookcases filled with massively thick, leather-bound tomes which must be centuries old. 
 They were the mementoes of a life which had spanned over a hundred and sixty years. All in all the collection must be worth many thousands − no, millions surely − of pounds. 
 Offhand, there was nothing they could see that gave an obvious clue to Dr Fu Manchu's plans. And it was difficult to search too intensively without running the risk of disturbing something, and thereby letting him know they had been here.
 Downstairs in the front room, Caroline could hear Fah Lo Suee moving around up above; then, suddenly, the sounds ceased. Caroline hesitated, then decided to investigate, wondering if her companion had run into some kind of trouble. Treading softly she mounted the stairs. She pushed open the door of one of the rooms, stepped in, and immediately stiffened. Fah Lo Suee was standing over the bed shining her torch on the face of the man lying there. 
 Caroline drew back with a startled gasp. The features were those of Dr Fu Manchu. That satanic face with its high domed brow was starkly illuminated against the surrounding darkness like a death's head. He remained fast asleep, his expression one of serene contentment.  
 Fah Lo Suee moved to the wall and pressed the lightswitch.  Most likely anyone outside who saw the light come on would assume the owner of the villa had got up to relieve himself.
 She stood with head bowed over the figure on the bed, her eyes screwed shut. She was so still she might have been a stone statue, its face frozen in a loook of pained indecision. In one hand was her Tokarev, its barrel pointing down at the floor. Her breath came in short sharp gasps.  
 Caroline went up to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Are you all right?" she whispered.
Fah Lo Suee nodded curtly. Her expression didn't change.  
 "We can't stay here forever," Caroline said. "You'd better make up your mind. Are you going to top him or not?"
 It would be murder. But it might also solve the whole problem of Dr Fu Manchu and his megalomaniac ambitions. Then she remembered Chris and Ho. Dr Fu Manchu's sense of honour was the only thing protecting them right now. What would his subordinates do with the two once his restraining hand was removed?  
 She hoped there wouldn't have to be a struggle. That'd make a noise and draw the police to the scene.  
 Eventually, to her relief, Fah Lo Suee turned from the bed with a soft, bitter sigh. 
"What if he wakes up?" Caroline asked.   
 "He won't." Fah Lo Suee gestured towards a small porcelain bowl on the bedside table. In it was a pile of some powdery substance in which rested a carved wooden pipe. "He's in an opium sleep. He won’t not wake unless there's an earthquake." Turning the light back off, she led Caroline from the room.
 "It was his way from time to time to take the drug," she explained. "It helps him to think. It is how he conceives a lot of his plans."
 Splitting up again, they resumed their search for clues, to meet up twenty minutes later in the kitchen, having found nothing. 
 They turned their attention to the other thing they had come there to do. It was with a pleasing feeling of nostalgia that Caroline set to work on the phone. As soon as she had finished putting the tap in they left the house, Fah Lo Suee using her electronic lock-picker to move the pins in the lock back into position. Then they returned to the car, where Fah Lo Suee sat in silence gazing through the windscreen into the blackness of the surrounding night.
"So you didn't do it," Caroline said. "You didn't kill him."
 "He was my father," Fah Lo Suee replied simply. After a moment she added, "and he always knew that if I ever had him at his mercy, if I could take his life, I wouldn't be able to summon up the courage. That has always been my weakness." 
She started the engine.


THIRTY-NINE
Ho had covered some forty miles, all in all, before he felt the jeep start to slow, and pulled off the road. The vehicle bumped for a while along the ground, spluttering, then came to a juddering halt. The engine died.  
 A brief glance at the fuel gauge told him what the problem was. Empty.
 He got out and began walking, cheering himself with the thought that he was on a road, of sorts, and all roads had to lead somewhere since that was the whole point of them.  
 There was still no sign of human habitation anywhere. But he must surely find something, and soon. Some place with a phone. If it didn't have one, maybe he could hire a car and drive to a town or village that did. Unfortunately, there had been nothing of any use to him in the jeep.
 The surface of the road was no more comfortable for a walker than it had been to drive on. Every few minutes he found himself stumbling, once tripping and falling flat on his face, as his shoes caught in a rut.  
 They weren't designed for long-distance walking on rough terrain, and were soon battered and filthy. They'd wear out before long.  
 After an hour or so he paused to rest. He was tired and his whole body was racked by aches and pains. He gave himself about twenty minutes, then painfully lifted himself to his feet once more, and trudged on.  
 Soon he was getting hungry. He stopped to meditate for a while, once more purging himself of any thought of the body and its needs; then, refreshed, he carried on his way again. 

Sarah Hitchcott's eyelids flickered open, as slowly and fitfully her consciousness began to filter back. She made to pull back the bedsheets, and frowned when her fingers grasped empty air.
 Stiffly she sat up, and looked around rubbing her eyes. She was lying on the bed, not in it.
This wasn't her room. What the hell...
 The last thing she remembered was taking a drink with a client at Knaves.  
 Suddenly gripped by fear, mingled with anger and distress, she leaped from the bed and bolted for the door with a sob.  

The other girls were found more or less at the same time, after a series of anonymous calls to local police. Each was discovered lying on a bed in an empty flat in downtown Tokyo, drugged into unconsciousness, from which they woke after a short while. They remembered nothing of their experiences, although they were distressed to find out what had been done to them. They could not say how they came to be where they had been found. Physically they were uninjured and in good health, with no evidence of sexually transmitted diseases.  
 Once a doctor saw them, they were taken to their respective embassies and their families contacted. Before long arrangements were in hand for their return home. 

A few miles from Dr Fu Manchu's London house, Shane and Joe were sitting in a car parked in the shade of a massive oak tree within a stretch of woodland on the outskirts of the city, waiting for some sound to issue from the listening device screwed into Shane's ear.
 Nothing had happened for some time now and they were both starting to get bored. Then Shane heard the crackle as Dr Fu Manchu picked up the phone. There followed silence while he dialled a number, then another crackle and a cultured English voice. "Hello?"
"It's me," said Dr Fu Manchu. "Is everything going well?"
 "Yes. They don't suspect anything. I'd say it was going swimmingly. What do you have to report?"
 "The weapons are nearly ready. And the first stage of the plan is about to begin. All but one of our agents are in position. Just a few more days and we can act." 
"Splendid. Do you need to see me at all before then?"
 "No, it is not necessary. I called you because there is something I need you to do for me, something very important.  Listen carefully..."
 
And in his mews flat in Chelsea Sir George Ackroyd, head of Her Majesty's internal Security Service otherwise known as MI5, listened.


FORTY
It was getting dark, as well as dangerously cold, when Ho finally staggered into a ramshackle little village, a cluster of tiny mud-walled cottages with thatched roofs. The inhabitants gave him some food and drink and let him have an old pair of shoes, a bit worse for wear but still serviceable, to replace the ones he'd worn out in getting there.  
 But there were no modern communications, no telephones or radios. However a friend of someone's owned a pick-up truck in which he offered to take Ho as far as the next village, some thirty miles away. From there, they said, he would have to fend for himself.  

It had been agreed that al-Kursaali should visit his sister, or she him, at least once a week. On this occasion the meeting was being held at Samira's house.
 She and Ramasseh were talking animatedly with one another, as usual. "I still don't understand why you don't you go to Ahmed's mosque," she was saying. "It's near enough to where you are. Regent's Park's a long way to go."
 Ramasseh could hardly tell her why he was persona non grata at the Yardley Lane mosque. "I fell in with a good crowd of people at Regent's Park, didn't want to say goodbye to them."
 "How did you get involved with Regent's Park in the first place?"
 "I was up there visiting my parents and decided to go in there to pray. I got talking to a few people and they invited me back." It was a plausible enough explanation, Samira reckoned. 
 "Anyway, I prefer ours. The architecture there is splendid.  We've got a really nice…what are they called, those sort of niches in the wall...the shell-shaped things..."
 He stopped abruptly, and for the briefest of instants there was a look of alarm on his face whose implications made Samira go cold. He didn't seem to know that she'd noticed it, but she had. 
 Perhaps his uncertainty wasn't in itself anything to cause disquiet. Things like that did occur from time to time in religion. Although Samira didn't happen to know it a certain Archbishop of Canterbury had once forgotten the words of the Lord's Prayer. The real slip was in Ramasseh's tone and manner. Just for a moment, as he himself was aware, he had been talking of Islam the way he would if he were an interested observer, someone not themselves a member of the faith.
 "Mihrabs," Samira answered matter-of-factly, after a moment regaining her composure. 
 All Ramasseh had said to her during the time they had known each other suggested he'd always been a Muslim, despite his non-Asian appearance and the culture clash he'd experienced.  If that was the case, though, he should have known what a mihrab was, and he certainly shouldn't have looked the way he did just then. The culture clash on its own didn't explain such things.
 They went on talking for some time, Samira battling to prevent her growing unease from showing. Then al-Kursaali came up to Ramasseh and tapped him on the shoulder. "Yusuf, I think it's time we were going." Ramasseh nodded, moving away from Samira. al-Kursaali kissed his sister on the cheek.  "Good to see you again," he grinned, although in fact she had spent most of the time talking to Ramasseh. "'Bye for now.  Give my love to all the folks."
 Nodding to Samira, Ramasseh followed the others out to the car. They drove off, with Samira waving at them from the doorstep. Once they were on the main road al-Kursaali turned to Ramasseh with a solemn look. "You must not get too friendly with her," he said.
 "Don't worry, I won't." Ramasseh laughed, then shrugged.  "It's just that she's a nice girl and easy to talk to. Besides, if she likes me then she'll be a lot more friendly to you. She won't go asking any awkward questions."
At this al-Kursaali nodded, pleased by the reasoning.  
 Meanwhile Samira was at prayer. She had thought it might be a good idea to ask for guidance. 
 Was she becoming too attracted to Yusuf? It wasn't so long since Fereydoun died, which added to the pangs of guilt she was beginning to feel. Of course they had drifted apart a little by the time of his death; even though things had been patched up to some extent, there had still remained between them a gulf which hadn't been there before and which she couldn't explain. But she told herself that was no excuse.
 Or did she just feel sympathy for Ramasseh because of his past experiences? She tried to reassure herself that that was it.  
 Either way, though, it made what she was beginning to suspect that much more terrible. 

It was a question of village-hopping, using each place he came to as a stepping stone to the next. Ho would root around until he found someone who would take him to the nearest settlement, with or without insisting on payment first. He went without food as much of the time as possible.  
 Eventually he came to a village which had no phone, but did have a man with a hire-car, who for fifty yen was willing to loan him his vehicle. Ho had no option but to pretend he was only going as far as Zhangzhou, a couple of villages away, and back. Of course he kept on going until he started to run out of money with which to buy petrol for topping up the vehicle, whenever he chanced to come across anywhere that sold such a commodity, and then abandoned it by the side of the road. When he had left Hong Kong for Shanghai he had made sure to take a considerable supply of money with him, and Dai Sang's men had left his wallet untouched − evidently petty thievery held no attraction for their boss. But he needed to save some for the train journey to Beijing.  
 The car finally gave out about forty miles from the city of Lanzhou. And without a single sigh of vexation, although his stomach was churning painfully, Ho set out to walk the next stage of his journey. 
 Much as the matter pricked at his conscience, he'd worry about returning the car later. 

Sir George Ackroyd parked his car in the slot reserved for him, got out and walked briskly up to the front entrance of MI6 HQ. To his left, in the gap between this and the next building, the dark surface of the Thames gleamed in the moonlight. 
 He knew his presence on the premises would arouse no comment, even at this time of night. These days MI5 and MI6 worked very closely together on problems such as al-Qaeda.  There was no reason why the head of one service should not visit the other, and in fact they often did.  
 He slotted his pass into the machine on the wall by the door, and a light came on. The door slid open. Ackroyd stepped through and strode across the foyer to a door in the far wall, nodding briefly to the guard behind the reception desk, who returned the compliment with a smile of recognition.
 Ackroyd went through the door and down the corridor leading to the ground floor offices. He opened the first door he came to and went in. Here another security guard was seated at a bank of monitor screens which showed everything that was going on in each room of the building. He lay back in his chair with his hands clasped behind his head, regarding the screens with a bored expression. 
 He swivelled his chair round as Ackroyd entered, eyes opening wide in surprise. "Hello, Sir George. What can I do for y − "
 He broke off, registering that Ackroyd's arm was stretched out towards him and that there seemed to be something in the hand, something shiny and metallic which gleamed in the light. He frowned, staring at Ackroyd in uneasy puzzlement at his strange behaviour. He was about to speak when the object flew from Ackroyd's hand and sped through the air towards him. 
 Before he could react it had settled on his shoulder and sunk its fangs through his clothing and into his flesh. He convulsed violently and then slumped back unconscious, sliding from the chair. 
 Easing him aside, Ackroyd studied the console beneath the monitor screens. One by one he located the cassettes from the various cameras, pressing the "stop" button for each and then removing it. He slipped one into his pocket, the others into his briefcase.   
 From his other pocket Ackroyd took a small black control box and touched a control. The creature, hovering over the guard's body, shot across the room and out through the door, travelling along the corridor towards the reception area where the other guard sat at his desk. A minute later it returned. 
 Now he must find what he was looking for and get out before someone made a routine call to check all was well and found that it wasn't. The creature following him, he hurried from the room and down the passage to the flight of stairs giving access to the basement, where the security vaults were located. 
 Some minutes later he found the heavy box file, placed it on the table and opened it. Inside he saw a yellowed soft-back exercise book, its staples rusty. A quick glance at the writing on the cover told him it was what Dr Fu Manchu wanted.  
 He opened his briefcase and slipped the exercise book into it. Then he made his way back along the corridor towards the foyer.  
 He was almost there when the door of an office was flung open and several people stepped into view.
 Rachel Savident was there, flanked by a couple of armed security guards. Behind them were two people Ackroyd didn't know, a tallish blonde whom he was sure he'd seen here a couple of times though he had no idea who she was, and an attractive mixed race woman with striking green eyes.  
 Rachel stared at Ackroyd, and at the file in his hand, in astonishment and disbelief. Then she regained her composure.  "I'm sorry, Sir George," she said impassively. "But I think you've got some explaining to do." Her level voice showed she hadn't yet noticed the thing hovering in mid-air close by him.
 "If you wouldn't mind handing over that file, please Sir."  Rachel extended her hand.  
 Slowly, with a reluctant expression, Ackroyd held out his.  Then he thrust his other hand into his pocket, feeling for the button on the control box. 
 The five of them jumped back in alarm as the creature flew towards them. Selecting one of the guards as its target, it landed on his throat and sank its fangs into the soft flesh.  They saw the man's eyes glaze over and he slumped to the floor, the creature rising from his unconscious body as he fell.
 Changing direction, it rushed at the second guard. By now they had had time to gather their wits. The guard's pistol came up, as did Rachel's, and both fired at the silvery shape as it darted through the air at them. Reacting immediately, it zig-zagged from one side to the other, moving faster than either of them could re-aim. The thing's intelligent, realised Rachel. It's sensing the danger and trying to avoid it. Even with two people firing at it, it continued to dodge the bullets with ease.
 Caroline made a foolhardy attempt to grab it, and Rachel shouted a warning to her. She and the guard ran about frantically, trying to dodge the creature and shoot at it at the same time. Caroline jumped back, afraid of being accidentally hit. 
 Fah Lo Suee saw Ackroyd running for the door into the foyer. "He's getting away!" she shouted. Seeing that the creature's attention was focused on Rachel, the guard turned and ran after him, at the same time yelling for assistance into his mobile. Still they had failed to hit the creature, and they were in danger of running out of bullets. Then Rachel saw it making towards Caroline. "Stay still!" she shouted.
 With a look of puzzlement, Caroline obeyed. The creature dropped onto her shoulder, and she flinched at its cold metallic touch. Then Rachel took aim and fired. The creature was shot from Caroline's shoulder to land on the floor several feet away, its circuitry buzzing and crackling as a plume of smoke streamed from where Rachel's bullet had hit it. Its wings twitched feebly in a futile attempt to lift it off the ground. It crawled across the floor, spider-like, for a few feet before Fah Lo Suee's foot came down on it hard. They heard a tinkle as something broke within it, then the sound of its shattered electronics running down. Fah Lo Suee lifted her foot and stepped back. They wrinkled their noses at the smell of molten metal and plastic.  
 Caroline turned to Rachel indignantly. "That was a bit risky, wasn't it?" she said, not a little upset.  
 Rachel patted her consolingly on the arm. "I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't known I could pull it off," she smiled.  
 Caroline grinned back, her anger evaporating. You had to admit, it was a good shot.  
 They crowded round the creature, staring down at it in horrified fascination. Mingling with the stench of charred and smoking circuitry was another, slightly different smell, not unlike burning flesh. But not human flesh.
"What is it?" Rachel gasped.
"One of my father's creations," Fah Lo Suee answered.  
 "Never mind it right now," said Caroline, intrigued as she was. "What about this chap?" She squatted down beside the unconscious guard. His eyes were shut and he was breathing regularly; apart from the fact that he was out cold there seemed nothing wrong with him. "Looks like it just put him to sleep, that's all." 
 "Look," said Rachel, pointing to something on the man's throat just to the side of his windpipe. They saw two tiny punctures in the skin, like the marks left by a snakebite.  "It must inject some sort of toxin. I got there just in time, Caroline. Another fraction of a second and it would have bitten you. Not that you had anything to worry about. It seems Yu Chen, or Fu Manchu, or whoever he is doesn't like to harm people if he can avoid it. All the same we'd better carry out a full medical on this guy. And an analysis of this thing."  Gingerly she picked up the strange little insect and placed it in the palm of her hand. 
 The door was shoved open and two guards came in with Ackroyd sandwiched between them, each grabbing one of his arms tightly.
 "And you, Sir George," Rachel said sadly, "have some explaining to do, like I said. Right now."
    
FORTY-ONE
Samira al-Kursaali was lying in bed thinking. 
 The events of the past few weeks all added up, in her mind, to something suspicious and highly disturbing. First of all the strange, distant behaviour of her fiancee and her brother; then the appearance in their circle of Ramasseh, who didn't appear to be as complete a Muslim as he claimed. 
 There was Ramasseh's reaction when she'd told him Fereydoun was her fiancee. It had been odd at the time and was still odd now. It was as if he'd known something she didn't, that made the information particularly significant, shocking even.
 Then had come the realisation that he was ignorant or uncertain of certain aspects of Islamic history and theology.  There seemed to be little gaps in his knowledge which you wouldn't have expected. His Muslim credentials were good, but not as good as they should be.  
 The only significance it might have, that Samira could see, was a highly disturbing one that she didn't really want to think about. But she had to know the truth, for her brother's sake and Ramasseh's. She liked Yusuf; he was certainly intriguing, with depths to him, she felt, that you'd never quite succeed in plumbing. But then perhaps that begged the question.
 It didn't seem right to get too friendly with him when he might be working secretly to expose her brother as a terrorist. Her sense of family loyalty was still strong.  Even when, if her interpretation of things was correct, Ahmed had at least been a party to the killing of Fereydoun − of her own fiancee.  
 She had thought about that for a long time, feeling herself grow very cold. The implication had stunned her, left her for a time both mentally and physically paralysed. 
 Because there was no proof, she was not yet really angry.  Nonetheless the whole ghastly thought made her feel almost physically sick. She had lain on the bed in a numbed, zombie-like state for hours before gathering her thoughts.
 It could still turn out that he was totally innocent. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking. 
She had to know the truth, but what was she to do?  
 She prayed again to Allah for guidance, and felt much better afterwards. All the same, it was some time before she finally made up her mind to act. Tomorrow, she would ring her brother and ask if he had Ramasseh's address, if he wasn't in the phone book. Reasoning that if her fears about her brother were grounded, he wouldn't want her getting too fond of a member of the cell, she decided to pretend she only wanted to speak to Ramasseh about something he'd borrowed from her and forgotten to return.
And then at the first opportunity she would go and have it out with him. 

Sir George Ackroyd sat on a stool in a small, bare-walled room which was otherwise empty apart from a number of chairs, a table and a couple of tough-looking security guards who stared at him impassively. Ackroyd met their gaze with a bland smile.  
 He hadn't been waiting long when Rachel Savident entered the room. "I'm very sorry about this, Sir," Rachel said, moving to stand in front of him. He smiled non-committally.
 Folding her arms, she began the interrogation. "It would seem you have links with the Chinese businessman, Yu Chen.  And that the two of you are involved in something highly suspicious."
"How did you know?" asked Ackroyd.
 "We have our sources, if you'll excuse me being both banal and vague." She thought it best for the time being to protect Caroline and Fah Lo Suee's cover. "Now Yu Chen isn't his real name, as you must be aware. He’s Dr Fu Manchu, and we know from the document you tried to steal from here just what he is. It's a memoir left by Sir Denis Nayland Smith, former Scotland Yard police commissioner, which tells us all about his history and how he operates."  
 Marjorie Harriman had decided to open the box in her attic and on examining its contents told the police about them.  Though unsure whether or not it was a hoax, though it probably wasn't considering Nayland Smith's reputation, they thought MI6 ought to have the documents, and since national security seemed to be involved sent them on to Vauxhall immediately. "Fu Manchu must have learned about the document from Jeffrey Harriman. He obviously thought the information in it would be of use to us, and decided he had to get hold of it. He guessed it had come here when he didn't find it at Marjorie Harriman's house, and sent you to check. Now tell me, Sir George, are you working for the Si-Fan?"
"I'm saying nothing," Ackroyd smiled.
 "You had a telephone conversation with Fu Manchu last night.  He told you to come here and steal the document." And so Caroline and Fah Lo Suee had contacted Rachel, and the three of them had set their trap. "But before that, he said one or two things which we found particularly disturbing. What are these weapons he said were ready?"
Ackroyd continued to smile at her blankly.
 "What's in it for you? Why are you helping Fu Manchu? The man's a lunatic."
 She began pacing up and down. "And a menace to national security. International security. Everything in Smith's memoirs makes that clear. It may be hard to believe some of the things he's supposed to have done, but one thing is clear −he's a menace. What's he up to this time? We're determined to get the truth out of you, one way or another." She put a deliberate emphasis on the last four words.  
 "I don't imagine the thought of a long spell in prison would put off someone who was fanatical enough about what he believed in to want to work for a person like Fu Manchu.  There are other ways of persuading you to talk, although I don't like to use them." The distaste in her voice wasn't fabricated. "Unless you co-operate I'll hand you over to someone who's got less compunction in the matter."
 Ackroyd fixed her with a penetrating look. "You know why I did it? Because our society is corrupt, inefficient, decadent. It deserves to be destroyed. Let the Chinese have a crack of the whip, they're an older and far wiser civilisation than us. They respect the elderly instead of rejecting them as bigoted reactionaries, allowing criminals to persecute them, never giving them enough money to live on and generally shunting them onto the sidelines while the young get on with the task of misgoverning the country.  They value courtesy. They work hard and not make too much fuss about rewards. They value the things that really make a society what it is, like tradition and culture."
 He gave a weary, bitter sigh. "Lately I've come to bother more about justice and efficient government than I do about patriotism."
 "I understand you wanting to change the way things are," Rachel said. "I'm less happy about your methods." 
 "They're necessary, I'm afraid. And do you really understand my aims? You yourself are part of the system; part of the problem. Tell me, Rachel; as it becomes more and more corrupt and inefficient, as essential services collapse and the moral tone of public life falls below zero, what are you going to do? How long will the people who prop it up − the police, the armed forces, the security services − stay loyal to it? How can you take any pride in such a situation?"
 He smiled sardonically, seeing by Rachel's look that his words were having an effect. For a moment the MI6 officer looked extremely uncomfortable.  
 His lips twisted in a sneer of contempt. "You've no idea how long I've been working within the system, undermining the establishment while pretending to be a part of it."
"How long have you been doing that?" 
 "Since the eighties. That's when I was first approached by the Si-Fan. You could see the rot developing then, and everything that's happened since has only served to convince me I was right to accept their offer."  
"And what exactly have you been up to on Fu Manchu's behalf?"  
 He ignored the question. "Things are too resistant to change, because there are so many entrenched elites − and I'm not just talking about the "old boy" network. And if it won't bend then it's going to have to..." He made a savage gesture with one hand, symbolising something being crushed, shattered, torn apart, utterly annihilated. "We must break this arrogant dictatorship of the young, this rule by yuppies straight from school and by control freaks who're only in it to keep out the intelligent and talented so that their own small-mindedness isn't shown up." He gave a scornful laugh.  "Despite appearances, and even they are losing their power to deceive, we live in a totalitarian state. Only it's an incompetent one. Dr Fu Manchu is no believer in democracy, but he's an enlightened autocrat; his rule will be just and fair. He'll make sure everything and everyone has their proper place. He's a visionary, with a brain far superior to anyone else's. He knows what shape the future must take and how to mould it."
 "You didn't answer me," Rachel said. "What have you been doing exactly? I need to know these things, Sir George. Fu Manchu will only get what he wants at a price that's far too great for the rest of the world to pay.
 "What's his plan? Are you so loyal to your master that you can stand up to torture?"  
 She tried again. "Who are these "agents" he said were in position?" Ackroyd seemed to consider for a moment. 
"Members of the Si-Fan," he replied.  
"Who are they?"
 "I don't know,” he lied. “The whole thing is compartmentalised. No-one knows who the other members of the Council of Seven are. It's a safety measure."
"They did in the past, according to Nayland Smith."
 "This time Fu Manchu is taking no chances. He contacts us all separately, makes sure we don't have anything to do with each other if it can be avoided." This was true at least. "He's up to something really big this time, and he's not taking the slightest risk of it being exposed."
"These Si-Fan agents; what are they going to do?" 
 "I don't know exactly. He just said they were in position, in different parts of the world. He's very vague about what he tells us. He wants us to have as little information as possible about his plans, in case anyone’s found out and questioned."
 Rachel pursed her lips. She had no way of knowing if Ackroyd was telling the truth here. But it was a plausible explanation. Someone as clever and careful as Dr Fu Manchu would probably take such a precaution.  
 "You must know what your own role is in this. Are you just there to rob archives?"
 "My job was simply to report back if the British government ever found anything out. And to veto operations that might have led to the exposure of a Si-Fan agent here or overseas; I'd have been told who they were so I could make sure they were safe. Fortunately everything was so well covered up I had no need to act."
 Negative evidence, thought Rachel. Because the government hadn't found anything out, and because there had been no danger to Fu Manchu's operations in Britain, Ackroyd had had no need to do anything. And so she had learned nothing. But that was assuming he had been telling the truth. If he was, torturing him would be a pointless exercise as well as distasteful. 
 "It must be more than that," she persisted. "What is it?" Rachel repeated. "Remember what I said. If we find out anything you've told us is a lie, you'll be in trouble. These weapons..."
 Ackroyd's brow furrowed. He was obviously thinking carefully. She stood by and let him think, waiting patiently. 
 After a while she broke the silence. "Give us something, Sir George. It'll be in your interest. We're keeping you under surveillance, we know where to find you."
 Ackroyd was considering the situation carefully. He didn't want to die, or be tortured, if it could be avoided. Nor did he want to betray the cause to which he had attached himself.
 He had to give them something. But although it had to be true, it needn't have to be the whole truth.
 "Weapons of mass destruction," he said at length. "Nuclear bombs, radiological bombs, bacteriological bombs. He's planning to smuggle them into various countries so that when they're detonated, the chaos and confusion will paralyse the world. He and his supporters can then seize power. I was to do it in Britain. Nearer to the moment I was to be joined by other members of the Si-Fan who'd make themselves known to me."
 Silence fell while Rachel considered this. "And is that all you're able to tell us?" 
Ackroyd nodded. "Yes, that's all."
 He could of course have edited what he had told her. Again, she had no way of knowing and wasn't inclined to apply physical pressure when there might be nothing to gain from it. 
 "All right," she said, after thinking it over for a few more minutes. "Well, I don't think there's enough evidence to send you to jail. In any case it would mean having to tell the truth about Fu Manchu, and we simply wouldn't be believed.  Needless to say we'll be keeping you under surveillance, as we will the good Doctor − incidentally, if you try to warn him you'll be in serious trouble. And you'll have to take a sudden early retirement, I'm afraid. Don't worry, we'll make sure your pension is safe."
"I'm free to go then?"
 She nodded, stepping aside. With a polite nod to her Ackroyd got up and left the room, the two security guards following close behind.  
 Rachel followed them out, then made for the room where Caroline and Fah Lo Suee had been waiting for her. She told them everything that had come out during the interview.  
 "I think I know why he kidnapped the Harriman boy," she added, telling them what she had learned from a study of the Nayland Smith document. "And I think he'll be safe for the time being. Fu Manchu's sense of honour will prevent him killing him as long as he isn't sure about what really happened back in 1957.”
 She sat down. "Now, let's go over what we know from the document, and from everything you've had to tell us, Caroline. Firstly, this Dr Fu Manchu. He's highly intelligent and educated, with degrees from four universities including doctorates in philosophy and medicine, and speaks just about every language on Earth. Claims to have solved the mystery of the Philosopher's Stone, although what that is exactly I haven't a clue. I was never a Harry Potter fan.
 "He's ruthless, determined, possibly insane. A scientific genius, with knowledge that goes back over a hundred years. His date of birth is unknown, like the other details of his early childhood, but he claims to be related to the former Manchu royal dynasty of China. He could claim the throne if he wanted to, except that they don't have one any more."
 One would have thought Fah Lo Suee could have supplied all the answers. But Fu Manchu's true origins were a mystery even to his own daughter.
 Rachel smiled nervously, wondering whether she was about to make a fool of herself. "According to Nayland Smith there's a superstition in some parts of China that under certain conditions, like living near to an old abandoned burial ground, an evil demon, a sort of elemental spirit that's been around since the world began, can enter a newborn child and possess it. Smith tried to trace Fu Manchu's exact ancestry but without success; I think he's suggesting that's what happened with him. At any rate he was convinced there was something odd about the conditions of his birth."
 Caroline found herself breaking in. "I don't think he's evil; not in the same way as Saddam or Bin Laden or Hitler."
 "Maybe not, but he's still highly dangerous." Rachel returned to the subject of Dr Fu Manchu's pedigree. "Nayland Smith thought he might be a member of a very old family with a tradition of state service, and that he administered the province of Hunan under the Empress Cixi − this is mid- to late nineteenth century we're talking about. A Professor of Chinese culture told Smith's friend Petrie that he reckoned Fu Manchu was probably one of the officials who supported the Boxer Rebellion against missionaries and other foreigners in 1900. Another account says he was a member of the former Manchu royal family; certainly according to Smith he often wore a yellow robe, which he would only have been entitled to do if he was one of the Manchu nobility.
 "Fu Manchu isn't his real name, rather a sort of nom de guerre. Fu means something like "brave", or to give it its literal English translation "militant and warlike". It was used as a title of respect.       
 "According to Smith he was educated at Heidelberg, Edinburgh, Harvard and the Sorbonne, and we've been able to confirm this from their records. He's obviously familiar with the West and its customs, and I imagine he's been catching up on everything that's happened since he put himself to sleep.  
 "He oozes charisma, and he can establish a psychological hold even over a fairly strong personality." Caroline remembered how the look in those green eyes, and the general aura emanating from Dr Fu Manchu, had almost shaken her rigid. "A master hypnotist and an expert in mind control. He can influence you to do things you normally wouldn't, make a policeman disobey his orders. Turn people into semi-zombies who'll obey every command he gives them, though their wills are free in other respects. He calls them his Companions. In the end most of the ones we know about survived, though they needed extensive therapy to return them to normal; it's not known exactly what technique he uses. The extent of the mind control varies depending on what they're required to do. 
 "Fu Manchu doesn't conform to the popular idea of an Oriental and if he needs to he can pose successfully as a European. His eyes are green, which would make him stand out anywhere, but we know he wears contact lenses to disguise them.
 "He's not, in fact, an ethnic Chinese. As his name and connections suggest, he's from Manchuria in the north-east of the country. The Manchus are a different race from the majority Han Chinese, although they might look like them on first appearances. 
 "When the Boxer uprising failed the Empress disowned its supporters in order to appease the Western powers, and they were forced to go into hiding. Fu Manchu ran off to Sinkiang, or Xinjiang as it's called nowadays, which is the westernmost province of China, a remote wilderness where in those days there was no such thing as law and order. There he recruited the Si Fan from among the thieves and robbers of different races and nationalities and used his personality to unite them and give them a purpose, which was the defeat of the West and the restoration of China's ascendancy.
 "He and his colleagues in the Si-Fan tried to start wars, or to manipulate world leaders, with the objective of global domination. At one stage he tried to decimate the population of the West with a virus he'd developed."  
Caroline stiffened. "The bastard."
 "He believed what he was doing was right; China was destined to rule the world and the West had to be crushed because it stood in its way. Later he seems to have become obsessed instead with overthrowing the Communist government in China. As he saw it they were wrecking the country, destroying its traditional way of life.
 “He saw Mao tse-Tung as a charlatan and a thug. He was last active, as Fu Manchu, back in the 'fifties when he tried to engineer a popular revolution against the Reds. It was fortunate his priorities had changed but Nayland Smith was always afraid he'd go back to his old habit of trying to take over the world.
 "People thought he was a myth, didn't take the whole business seriously. Nayland Smith got a lot of stick for being obsessed with him. But he was concerned people were underestimating the threat Fu Manchu presented.  
 "Smith himself destroyed any records of Fu Manchu's activities, using his influence at Scotland Yard − he'd been there for so long, he was the J Edgar Hoover of the British police forces − to get away with it. Because as the memoir tells us Fu Manchu had done some pretty incredible things − he was a scientific genius way ahead of his time − and he didn't like the idea of anyone else trying to copy that achievement. He thought it was safe to trash the records because by then Fu Manchu seemed to have retired from the world domination business, assuming he was still alive. But he kept the memoir he'd written because if Fu Manchu ever came back he thought people ought to have some idea as to how he operated, what he was capable of, to help in dealing with him."
 "That insect thing," said Caroline, "proves Fu Manchu is what Smith said he was."
 Rachel nodded. "It was probably manufactured secretly by one of Yu Chen's companies. We'll conduct a full analysis of it in due course."
 "And then of course there's your evidence." Caroline glanced at Fah Lo Suee, who had been sitting listening in impassive silence to Rachel's words, occasionally taking a drag from her herbal cigarette.  
 "The whole thing terrifies me," Caroline shuddered. "Assuming that Ackroyd's telling the truth..."
 "We could have done a lie-detector test," said Rachel. "But then someone in his position would know how to beat it. There just wasn't any point." She sighed deeply, clearly feeling the pressure. "This and al-Qaeda." 
"Can we arrest Fu Manchu?"
 "I'm afraid not. You weren't acting with official MI6 approval, so your evidence isn't admissable. There isn't enough real proof. But after all this we'll have to keep a close eye on him. And I'll make sure my superiors alert the Chinese government."
"What do you think they'll do?"
 "They'll probably conclude we've gone completely out of our minds, even if we pretend Yu Chen is just Yu Chen, dangerous as he is. There's still a great deal of suspicion of us on their part, and if we start claiming that such an important and respected figure is an evil genius bent on taking over  the world I doubt they'll be very impressed."
"What about foreign intelligence services?"
 "I can warn them about Yu Chen, make sure they know what we do. Again we'll have to doctor things a bit."
 "Well," Rachel finished, "I think that's about all for the time being." The three of them rose to leave.
 "We'll keep in touch," said Caroline to Fah Lo Suee. "Let us know if you learn anything, and we'll do the same." 
    
*

Deeply troubled, Dr Fu Manchu sat brooding over a vast pile of ancient books in the study of his London house.
 Ackroyd should have obtained the document by now, but nothing had been heard from him. He could ring the man, but if something had gone wrong and the security services knew what was going on the call would be monitored.   
 It was time to get out. He was already mindful of the danger posed by Tsien Ho's escape. If the security of the complex − the heart of his plan − was threatened by it then he really needed to be there himself, supervising everything that went on there directly. Now his mind was made up. 
 He called the key personnel at each of his businesses, telling them he would be away in China for a time, during which they should carry on as they normally would. With that accomplished, he rose from his desk and hurried out to his car, scrambling into the driver's seat. He started the engine and drove off down the long tree-lined avenue towards the main road. A second later the car which had been parked roughly opposite the house on the other side pulled out and set off after him.  
 The two men inside were MI5 operatives Paul Dodds and Joe McKinnon. Dodds was speaking into his mobile phone. "Looks like he's doing a runner. We're in pursuit." 
"Got that, thanks Paul. The police are on standby."
 Their quarry stopped at the junction with the main road, then turned left. Dodds and McKinnon did the same.  
 They trailed him through the streets of the capital, always a few yards behind, never losing sight of him for a second. Twenty minutes into the chase McKinnon made their fifth call to HQ. "He's heading north along the A1000 towards junction with M25."
 Just before reaching the junction they changed over. The car found a suitable spot and drew in to the kerb. A hundred yards ahead another car was parked half on the pavement. It waited until a minute or so after Dr Fu Manchu had passed it, then moved off after him. 

Samira al-Kursaali cut her speed, her little Austin Metro cruising gently along the street in which Yusuf Ramasseh lived.  
 She began scanning the houses on her left, trying to make out the numbers. 54, wasn't it?  
48, 50, 52...
 As she approached 54 she saw that there were two cars parked outside it, one on the drive and one on the pavement.  It looked like Ramasseh had a guest. 
 She obviously couldn't burst in and interrupt their business; it would be unwise as well as impolite. She pulled into the kerb on the other side of the road, roughly opposite the house, and waited. She would wait for as long as it took to get Ramasseh alone.
 Ten minutes passed, twenty. As the time wore on she found herself thinking about what she was doing and how it might work out. If he was what she thought he was, he'd deny it when she confronted him with her suspicions. When he made his gaffe the other day he had laughed it off as a momentary slip of the kind which does sometimes happen − and after all, how was she to know it hadn't been? Certainly he would insist that was all it was, truthfully or otherwise.
 Most probably, she'd only succeed in bringing about total disaster if she confronted him with her suspicions and then stormed off. He'd alert his colleagues, who'd do the only thing that could retrieve the situation; pounce on her brother and his friends and arrest them. Which of course she didn't want. But if she could say she had proof, that her own eyes had told her her suspicions were founded, the effect on Ramasseh would be different. Then, they could have a frank one-to-one chat about everything. Despite what he'd done she didn't feel she could just let her brother be arrested without knowing just what was going on. Perhaps she could pretend to help Ramasseh in his infiltration of the group; and then, once she had the chance, warn them to get out of the country, at the same time pleading with her brother to give up any involvement in terrorism. An idea began to hatch in her brain. A better idea, on the whole, than what she had come here with the intention of doing.
 It was at that moment, more or less, that the front door of the house opened and Ramasseh and another man came out. The other man shook hands warmly with him, then turned and went down the garden path to his car. He climbed into it, started the engine and drove away towards the main road. After a moment Samira set off after him.
 She hoped she wouldn't lose sight of him. She was also concerned that he would suspect he was being followed and try to lose her.  
Whatever happened, she told herself, it was worth a try.  
 As it transpired she didn't have anything to worry about, because he wasn't going all that far. She managed to stay close behind him until, several turnings and one set of traffic lights later, he pulled up outside the local police station. Samira saw him get out of the car, walk up to the entrance and disappear inside.    
 It was fortunate for her that Derek Slate was a scrupulously honourable man. He believed you should maintain personal contact with informants while you were running an infiltration; that way you showed your concern for their wellbeing, and didn't leave them feeling left out in the cold. And although the Khambatti murder case had now been handed over to Scotland Yard he felt it would be courteous to keep in touch with the local force, informing them of any developments and asking them if they had learned anything, even though they would have told him if they had unless it was something they'd only just found out.  
 There was nothing, and Slate left the building just five minutes later. By then Samira was on her way back to Ramasseh's house.
 Unfortunately, when she got there she found he wasn't in.  At a guess he was with her brother. She decided to wait a little before trying again.

"Subject now on M1 and heading north through Hertfordshire.  Am continuing pursuit." 
 In the car ahead, Dr Fu Manchu continued endlessly to turn the situation over in his mind. He was certain, after Ackroyd's failure to make contact, that the security services were on his track. They would probably be keeping him under surveillance. He didn't have to look behind him to know that he was being followed; it was what they would do.  
 Thirty minutes later he turned off the motorway onto a "B" road, travelling north-east. Occasionally, if the road ahead of him was clear and he could turn his attention from his driving for a moment, he glanced at the Ordnance Survey Landranger map open on his lap.  
 By now he was out in open country, heading towards the border between Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire. Going down one narrow, winding lane after another, with miles of rolling fields stretching away on each side. According to the map they were ten miles from the nearest large town, five from the nearest village. 
 The pursuing agents, Steve Rodd and Luigi Martelli, guessed his aim was to lose them in the maze of little lanes. They must not let him do so. Martelli trod hard on the brakes, shortening the distance between the two cars. They would have to keep within a hundred yards of him, never losing sight. All pretence that they were not following him would have to be abandoned.  
 Every few seconds Dr Fu Manchu glanced into his rear view mirror. 
 He was keeping his nerve. All the same, he would have to do something sooner or later. But if he caused a scene...
 He studied the landscape surrounding him. Nothing but miles of gently undulating countryside, dotted with little woods and thickets. Hardly a building in sight apart from the occasional isolated cottage. 
 He wound down the window beside him, then reached into a pocket and took out the control device. On the passenger seat beside him the metallic insect-like creature quivered, its wings beating in a blur of speed, and took off, shooting out through the open window. It heading straight for the pursuing car. 
 Martelli just had time to register the tiny gleaming object  before it smashed through the windscreen, turning it into a  mosaic of fractured glass. His reaction was to swing the car to the left, towards where he knew the grass verge to be. But before he could turn the wheel the creature had settled on his shoulder and bitten into the skin of his neck.  
 Martelli lolled limply in his seat, nerveless hands slipping from the wheel. Frantically Rodd unfastened his seatbelt, leaned across and grabbed the wheel, struggling with it as the car veered crazily across the road. It crashed through a hedgerow into a field, causing a herd of cows to scatter. Kicking Martelli's feet out of the way, Rodd stamped on the brakes and the car screeched to a halt in the middle of the field.  
 Martelli was unconscious but physically unharmed. Bruised and shaken, Rodd slid back into the passenger seat and stayed there for a moment, recovering his composure.  
 The creature flew off, smashing through the windscreen again, and headed after Dr Fu Manchu's car. Drawing level with it, it shot in through the window and dropped neatly into the palm of its master's hand.  
 Dr Fu Manchu drove on, deeper and deeper into the heart of the English countryside, for another hour or so. Then, somewhere in the region of Peterborough, he stopped, turned round and headed back towards London.

Hurwood Technologies had for many years been doing work for the security services, confidentially of course, at their extensive research laboratories near Leeds. There, in the bright white light of the main lab, with a white-coated Rachel Savident watching closely, Dr Ahmed Khan was carefully dismantling the creature Ackroyd had used to knock out the guards at MI6. Probing with a metal spatula, he found the join in its damaged casing and began prising it open. He gave a little startled cry as a blob of pulpy, brownish-yellow material oozed out. He prodded it with the spatula for a minute, muttering to himself, then looked up in astonishment.
 "My God," he gasped. "It's living − or was. This is organic matter."
 Rachel started, her eyebrows shooting up. "What? Are you sure?"
 "I'd have to complete the analysis. But I'm certain of it.  It's...." He used the science-fiction term. "Cybernetic. Whoever designed and built it is a scientific genius, alright. What a lot of people wouldn't give for this kind of technology."
 Helplessly Rachel struggled to find the right words to communicate her amazement. "If...if you're right, that's incredible."
 "Easier to believe if you consider that a plant or animal is a machine, only an organic one. The moving thing being, of course, that the machine was designed and is operated purely for the machine's own sake."  
"What's it made of?"
 "Something like titanium, at a guess. We'll have to wait until Metallurgy have had a look at it. Seems to be resistant to metal detectors."
 "Any idea what it could have been? Or is this some kind of entirely new species?"
 "Think the designer's an expert in bioengineering, too?" Khan looked down at the object in his hand. "Well, to build something like this he must be. No, I can't say what it was originally, not yet. But what puzzles me is why anyone would bother to do something like this. The electronics are pretty sophisticated, though not much more so than some of what's on the market already. The real genius lies in the way the organic and mechanical components are integrated." Khan prised open a little more of the creature's casing, and Rachel saw various wires and electrodes emerging from the pulpy matter. He tried with difficulty to separate them from it. "Why not just make the thing completely artificial?"  
"You tell me," Rachel said. 
 "Perhaps it makes things a lot easier if part of the job can be done by the creature's own nervous system. There's less bother to go to, less expense. Or maybe," Khan said thoughtfully, "whoever we're dealing with has had a lot of time on his hands and likes to spend it designing weird and wonderful things. Experimenting with nature to see just what he can do with it." He looked at her curiously. "Have you any idea who he is?"
 "I'm afraid that's confidential," Rachel smiled. "Look, keep me imformed. I'll be around the place for a while longer."  She turned away with a nod of thanks. 
 When she got back to her car she saw that HQ had been trying to contact her on her mobile, and rang them. "Any news?" she asked.
 "The guards are all OK. The last recovered consciousness a few minutes ago. They each have an unidentified toxin in their blood, but it doesn't seem to be doing them any harm."
"Any news of Fu Manchu?" 
 "We've lost him, I'm afraid." The official explained what had happened.
"And then?"
 "According to the police, this guy was cleaning his car in the driveway of his house when something just flew through the air towards him and landed on his face. The next thing he remembers is waking up and finding the car gone. They've just found it abandoned near Heathrow. The Nissan had been dumped a couple of hours earlier."
 "Looks like he only went north as a ruse," Rachel said. "He  doubled back once he'd shaken off the tail. He must have been planning to get out of the country by plane from Heathrow.  He's probably in the air by now."
 "We've had a worldwide alert put out, and all sea- and airports have been told to keep their eyes open for him."
 "I doubt if he got out of the country by legal means. He's got a network of accomplices here and overseas who could easily have arranged for him to be shipped out in a crate to wherever he's going, with no questions asked at either end.  And remember, with gadgets like what he's got he can control minds. He doesn't even need to bribe people.
 "Ah well," she sighed. "I suppose the main thing is to find out what he's actually up to." She wondered whether she might not be happier if they didn't.

Li Tan's fingers flickered over the keys of his laptop, typing out a message for broadcast to the nine al-Qaeda cells throughout the West.  
In each case the wording was more or less the same:
"FIRST PART OF PLAN WILL BE PUT INTO OPERATION TOMORROW." 
 It was short notice, but there was a reason for that. The less time there was before the job was carried out, the less chance of some unforeseen event upsetting the schedule or one of the cell blurting out something to the wrong person.
 "ADVISABLE FOR YOU AND REST OF CELL TO LEAVE THE CITY BEFOREHAND AS THERE WILL BE RISK OF DEATH. THAT IS ALL. I WILL CONTACT YOU AGAIN SHORTLY. LI TAN. INSHALLAH."
 Seated on the bench in the back garden of 103 Marlborough Avenue, Ahmed al-Kursaali replaced the receiver of the satellite phone and sprang to his feet with a cry of joy, punching the air. Tomorrow! He had no idea what form the first strike would take, since as with the timing it had been considered unwise to let everyone know the exact nature of the operation. The reason why, in each country, the attacks were not being made by the cell or cells resident there could not, he understood, be disclosed without giving away that information.
 Not that it mattered. The sense of being so tantalisingly close to victory was intoxicating. For someone as abstemious as himself, it was what passed for sex. And the actual achievement of that victory would be even more exquisite.
 He set about ringing the others to discuss where they should go while the attack was carried out. They would not object to the suddenness of it; the preparations for such a contingency had been drawn up a long time ago. Li Tan was nothing if not thorough. 
 
Rachel had been enjoying a brief break from her duties, relaxing in the sunshine on the patio of a roadside cafe not far from the Hurwood site, when Khan called her to tell her he had finished his analysis. She swigged down the rest of her Diet Coke and drove over to the laboratory.
 Khan ushered her to his workbench, on which an assortment of complex electronic components were laid out, and shapeless lumps of tissue were suspended in jars of greenish liquid. Nearby sat an intricate, tangled mass of wiring. 
"So what have you found?" she asked eagerly.
 "It was a tarantula, native to the South American rain forest. Its intelligence is augmented by a micro-computer implanted in the brain, which contains a radio receiver that picks up signals and transmits them to the...to the creature.  Operated by remote control, from that black box your friend had on him. Its behaviour can be programmed, but once it has received instructions I imagine it uses its own intelligence in carrying them out.
 "There's something else. Just take a look at this." He directed her to a microscope, inviting her to peer through the eyepiece at the drop of colourless fluid on the specimen slide.  
 Rachel saw a cluster of many-sided shapes, themselves rather like spiders, each with a multitude of jointed legs. They had the regularity and symmetry of manufactured objects yet something about their movement as they swam about, colliding gently with one another, was suggestive of living things. Like bacteria, but artificially created.  
 Rachel gave a gasp of astonishment. She lifted her eyes from the microscope, to stare at Khan open-mouthed. "Surely these are..."
 Khan nodded. "I think they're nanobytes. Something science believed would be possible in the not too distant future. Before, they could only be found in the realms of science fiction. And now someone appears to have achieved it."
 "Isn't the theory that they could be used to...restructure things? Rebuild damaged tissue, or grow it in the first place?"
 "That's right." He gestured to where the creature lay on its back on a tray. "There's a reservoir of fluid located just behind the fangs, in a kind of sac. It's divided into two compartments, each with a duct connecting it to a cavity within either of the mandibles. The fluid in one compartment is swarming with nanobytes. In the other it's a harmless knock-out toxin. The creature can be programmed to inject a person with either, depending on whether you want to control them or simply overpower them. And if they realise what your game is and try to run away, it goes after them. A very practical consideration.
 "I don't know yet how it manages to fly, but the material it's made of is very light and flexible. It's meant to imitate the − the design, if that's the right word, and behaviour of a real insect, most probably something like a bee. It's only a guess, but I've a feeling whoever was responsible for this incredible piece of work has cracked one of the greatest scientific mysteries of all time; how can a bumblebee fly."
 "What do they do to someone once they're inside them?" It all seemed rather gruesome, Rachel thought. 
 "I don't think they restructure the brain. My guess is that once they are injected into the subject they in turn, when required, inject some kind of chemical which the blood carries to the brain, where it can influence the person's behaviour."
"To make them do what?"
 Khan shrugged. "Anything one likes, I imagine. It depends on the instructions the chemicals carry."
 Rachel shivered. She realised Khan was looking at her.  They'd both had the same thought; what if there were dozens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of people wandering about with these things in their brains...
 "I'll have to carry out more research before I fully understand how it all works," Khan said.  
 "You'd better get on with it. Oh, and don't let anyone else know about this. Your assistants maybe, should they need to, but no-one else. You'll appreciate that in the wrong hands this kind of technology could be extremely dangerous."
 "In the right ones it could be highly beneficial," he pointed out. "In medicine..."
 She eyed him uneasily. She didn't doubt he was attracted by the thought of gaining the credit for applying such techniques successfully to medical care.  
 "We need to decide whether the benefits outweigh the evils," she said. "Until then I want this to remain a secret. Only you and me and my superiors should know about it."  
 She regarded the nanobug, as she had decided to call it, almost with pity. "What do you classify it as now? A spider or…"
 "That's a zoologist's job, and I expect they'd have a hard time figuring it out. I'm not one, but I can tell you this; it breaks a lot of rules, and presents us with some interesting ethical dilemmas. It's only an insect, but..."
Rachel corrected him. "Arachnid, I believe."   
 "OK, arachnid. But is it even an animal now? And in what sense of the word is it alive, now it's at least partly mechanical?" He contemplated the dismantled nanobug and scratched his chin. "I think he may have grown the organic part of the creature separately and in one piece, like a culture, and then mated it with the electronics."  
Rachel pulled a face. "Ugh."
 Khan shook his head half in disapproval and half in wonder. "Your mysterious enemy, whoever they are, must be a real fiend." 
 Rachel reflected on all Caroline had told her about Dr Fu Manchu. "Perhaps," she mused. "Perhaps." 

Meanwhile an e-mail was in process of being sent by John Downham, acting head of MI5, replacing Ackroyd who remained very much alive but had had to take a sudden and unexpected early retirement, to DI Derek Slate at Scotland Yard’s Anti-Terrorist Branch.
"DI Slate felt you should know the Yanks are getting restless. By now they’ve intercepted two messages from Li Tan to his chums which they can’t decipher. We’ve no idea what they mean, what might be happening at this very moment that we wouldn’t like. 
 "Our European partners are also concerned at the possible danger to their citizens, especially as their own infiltration operations have failed to produce any result. I have discussed the matter with my colleagues and the Home Secretary and we’re all agreed that if another transmission from Li Tan is picked up then we pounce, whatever the dangers to the man you have working undercover."
Neither of them was to know that it was already too late.

When al-Kursaali rang with the news Ramasseh felt a rush of adrenalin course through him. "When will it be exactly?" he asked. 
 "Tomorrow; Saturday. Of course we do not know how it will be carried out or by who."
"And it's to be in London?"
 "Yes, in London. We must make sure we are not in the city at the time. Li Tan says that if we are there is a possibility we might be killed." 
"Hasn't he decided where in the city it is going to be?"
 "He's telling us nothing of his plans. That is the only way to preserve maximum security."
"Of course."  
 "Do you want to go up to Leicester with us? We can stay with my relatives there."  
"I should like to meet them."
 "I'll let them know we're coming, and we'll start off tomorrow morning." His relatives would not object to the suddenness of the request. Hospitality was a sacred principle within the Muslim world and he knew he could always rely on it. 
"What time will we be leaving tomorrow?" Ramasseh asked.  
"About nine o'clock."
"I will be with you then. Insh'allah."
"Insh'allah," replied al-Kursaali. Ramasseh heard him put down the phone.
 The policeman's mind began working feverishly. They had been told not just to stay at home, but to leave the city. That suggested something pretty devastating was being planned; an attack that could affect the whole of the capital.  
Some kind of weapon of mass destruction. It must be.  
 He had no idea of its nature, but it couldn't be a radiological weapon, a so-called "dirty bomb", because those only contaminated a limited, though still pretty large, area.  
In any case, he had to warn Slate right away.

al-Kursaali's next call was to Samira. She was at home when he rang, debating whether or not to make another attempt to contact Ramasseh. He might or might not be at her brother's house. She certainly didn't want to ring him there as the matter was best discussed face to face, with nobody else present.  
 If she rang him at his own home, and he was there, he might just slam the phone down once she raised the matter that was causing her so much concern, and do a runner. She had just made up her mind to drive over when the call came from Ahmed. "Samira, listen; we thought it would be nice to go up to Leicester for the weekend. Do you want to come with us?"
 She was too preoccupied regarding Yusuf to think of weekends away. "Er, no, I can't go I'm afraid. I'm a bit too busy with my work right now." She did her best to sound convincing.
 "Sure? We'll all be there. Yusuf's coming..." Perhaps that would make up her mind for her, he thought. 
 Samira felt herself stiffen. The implications of this revelation began to sink in.
"Hey, are you still there sister?" she heard Ahmed ask.
"Er, what was that?"
"Are you sure you don't want to come?" 
 "Er...yeah, OK," she said brightly. "I guess everything else can wait for a bit."
 "That's great. So I'll pick you up tomorrow just before nine."  
"Fine. See you, then."
"Bye."
 Samira found herself feeling a little nervous. It wouldn't really be the right circumstances in which to broach the subject. But she so badly needed to talk to Yusuf, and now she could be sure of catching him. If she didn't take the opportunity she'd spend the whole weekend with the matter preying on her mind.  
 There would surely be some point during the weekend at which she would have the chance of speaking to him alone. She'd just have to wait for it, that was all.

Slate almost dropped the phone when Ramasseh told him the news. "So it looks like an attack is imminent?"
 "It sure does. They wouldn't give me any details. But it's something pretty big."  
 "And you're no nearer finding any general information about al-Qaeda’s operations in this country?" Slate asked.
"I just haven't had the chance."
"Well, you're doing alright so far."
"I'll have to go with them, of course, or they'll get suspicious."
 "Right. If you can find out anything let us know, obviously.  So it's not actually going to be them who'll do the job?"
 "It doesn't seem so, no. Presumably there's another cell about, but I can't say any more than that because al-Kursaali's keeping the lid on it well and good. I'll just have to keep my eyes and ears open. What are you going to do to protect the capital in the meantime?"
 "Put out a general alert, and make sure the rescue services are on standby. We'll monitor all the traffic coming in and out of the city, but there's no way we can stop every vehicle. Only a select few."
"It's not going to be enough, is it?" Ramasseh said quietly.
 In the office, Slate caught Mike Thompson's eye and nodded slowly, his face bleak. "At least you'll be out of it," he said. 

At a village called Kinshiang Ho was lucky enough to find a family who agreed to put him up for the night. And with the aid of a donation from his generous hosts, he had just enough money for the bus fare to Lanzhou, where he knew he would find a telephone. As a matter of fact there was one at Kinshiang, but it didn't work.  
 Thousands of miles away Caroline Kent was sitting in the living room of her house, drinking from a mug of tea and gazing down fondly at Jack, who had jumped on her lap and was pushing his paws up and down on her chest, purring contentedly.  
 The phone rang, and with some reluctance she eased him off and deposited him gently on the floor, giving him a pat on the head by way of consolation.
 "Hi, is that Caroline?" It was an American voice that spoke, and she thought she recognised it.  
 "Yes, it is. Dan?" Dan Beckenbaum was the husband of an American friend of Caroline's. She had first made Lisa's acquaintance when the death of her son, and of Caroline's brother, on an airliner blown up by terrorists brought them together as members of a joint pressure group formed to campaign for a proper enquiry into the atrocity.
 "That's me." He sounded strained, subdued. "Listen, honey, I'm afraid Lisa's not well. The doctors say it's some kind of rare infection. She's taken a turn for the worse and I guess she'd appreciate a call from you."
"Sure," Caroline gasped, shocked by the news. "Er, how bad is it?"
 There was a pause. When he next spoke Dan's voice was cracked with anguish. "Between you and me I...I don't think she's going to make it."
 Caroline listened in horror. "Oh no," she gasped, almost dropping the phone.  
"Can I speak to her at the moment?"
 "'Fraid not, she's sleeping. Best if she gets as much rest as possible. Her body's worn out fighting the infection."
"How...how long do they think she's got?" 
 “Hard to say...not long, probably. Sorry we didn't let you know before. It's just that everything's been thrown into chaos, as you can imagine."  
 "No, that's all right," she assured him. "Oh God. Oh no. Look, I want to come over."    
"I think she'd like that. Might even help her pick up a bit."
"I'll let you know as soon as I touch down."
"I probably won't be able to meet you at the airport.  Sorry."
"That's OK, I'll make my own way there. See you."
 Caroline put down the phone and swayed gently from side to side, eyes shut in pain. Clutching the edge of the table to steady herself, she took a deep breath.  
 Their mutual loss had thrown them together, made best friends out of them. Lisa had been a prop to her in her grief, and vice versa. She didn't like such people to be lost to her world. And it would be another tragedy for the family, coming when the scars left by the first had still not healed.  
 But if it was all she could do to, she would go to America, Caroline thought fiercely. She would be there for Lisa at the end.

Thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic Dan Beckenbaum replaced the phone and turned to the man standing beside him, who nodded in satisfaction.
"Well, Mr Beckenbaum," the man smiled, "you're doing all right so far." 


FORTY-TWO
That night Derek Slate's sleeping head was filled with all kind of disturbing, horribly vivid images. 
 It is a pleasant, sunny, Saturday morning in early September. The Square is packed with people; some tourists, some native-born sightseers, some ordinary Londoners. Families taking their children on a day out. The air rings to their chatter, and to the excited shouts of the children, the cries of a newspaper vendor, the rumble of the traffic, the merry sound of a street band.  
 A tramp sits huddled on the steps of Nelson's column, gazing at the world with listless eyes. A sandwich man proclaims the end of the world and the Day of Judgement, exhorting the swarming masses about him to repent. There is a party of American tourists with a guide, a mime artiste with painted face doing a robot impression before an appreciative crowd of onlookers, his hat slowly filling up with coins beside him.  Someone is selling copies of the Big Issue.   
 A little girl cries out to her mother, pointing upward.  "Look, Mummy! There's Nelson!"
"That's right, dear."  
 In some awe, her wide eyes range upward over the column's great height. Gently Mummy ushers her on. 
 Nearby an older boy is hesitantly feeding the pigeons, with the encouragement of his parents. He decides he vaguely enjoys the sharp pricking sensation as their beaks stab at the crumbs in the palm of his hand. Another boy scampers delightedly towards a cluster of the birds, who scatter and take wing in alarm. Briefly disappointed, he stands there looking sad until his father takes him by the hand and leads him to where the rest of the family is waiting, reminding him that they are going to the zoo later on and he will see plenty of nice animals there.
 An office worker sits on a bench, munching at her packed lunch. Tourists take snaps of their girlfriends, etc, standing by or leaning against one of Landseer's lions. Mementos to be treasured, tucked safely away in albums or mounted and framed on a mantelpiece, as happy memories of a day out together.  
 A massive throng of people, mostly white but by no means entirely so. A bustling, diverse mass of humanity. London draws to itself all the colours of the rainbow, all the nations of the world, as it has done for hundreds of years.
 The young man standing on the pavement across the road looks over at the crowds in the Square. For a moment his courage fails him. How can be possibly take such a final, irrevocable step? But that is what faith is all about.  
 He knows he cannot stand there indecisively for too long, or people will get suspicious. That thought makes up his mind, in a sick dizzy thrust of nausea. He almost runs across the road into the crowd, regardless of the traffic, the cars and buses and taxis with which it is teeming. Vaguely the thought that he might be run over and killed, or hospitalised, before he can get to his destination amuses him.  
 He waits for the lights to change. Finally they do, and he steels himself with a deep shuddering breath, striding boldly across the road towards the bustling crowds. He must try to keep his expression and body language normal, or someone may sense what he is up to and try to stop him, or shout a warning. His dedication is such that he cannot, and does not, allow himself to exult at what he is doing, at the thought of the paradise which awaits him. He cannot relish the thought that he has had the courage to be one of those who will gain martyrdom by making the ultimate sacrifice. But an eternity of bliss with the dark-eyed virgins will more than compensate for that. 
 On he hurries. He is on the other side of the road now. He scans the crowd, trying to judge the moment, the point where he should be when he pulls the cord and triggers the detonator. The point where it is thickest. Allah demands that the revenge for the West's crimes be terrible, so he must seek to cause the maximum possible death and suffering.
 He is spared no more than a glance, if that, as he approaches. He must look to the crowd like just another of the thousands, millions of people from the Middle East who now live and work in London.  
 Their talk and laughter drifts to him on the wind as he draws nearer to them. Men. Women. Little children.
Don't think about that. Don't think of them as people.
May God forgive them for their unbelief.
 Perhaps He would be merciful on the children, at least.  They were too young to know, to understand. And it was not their fault they had been born into, and were being brought up in, this immoral and decadent culture which had turned its face from God.  
 If He was not merciful...well, He had his reasons and it was not for Man to question them.
 He must steel himself not to recoil at the thought of the pretty girl who will be blown to pieces, the children with their heads and limbs missing. The fellow Muslims who might suffer in the holocaust or its aftermath.
 He selects at random a group of people standing together in roughly the centre of the square, talking animatedly, and makes towards them. There was a child with them, but...
 It has to be done somewhere, sometime. Lots of children will probably die anyway, in one fashion or another, in the world struggle between Islam and its enemies.  
 He pauses a few feet away, wishing his voice to carry across the square. One or two of them notice him out of the corner of their eye and turn to glance at him curiously. Does he want something? 
He throws back his head and opens his mouth wide.
"Allah Akbar!"
 They have just a few seconds for his words and their meaning to sink in; and then to realise, with a cold sickening thrust of horror, what is going to happen.
And that they are doomed.

 "We're going over to the studios at ITN for a Newsflash." The grimness of the continuity announcer's voice sent a chill of dread through those who were watching TV at the time. What were they about to hear? 
 For a few moments the staff at the Television Centre were simply too stunned to gather their wits, even though they had long known  − everyone had known − that a holocaust like that which had just occurred in Trafalgar Square was a possibility if not a certainty, and the multiple bombings of July 7th 2005 prepared them for it to some extent. But now, because of the particularly large number of people gathered together in one place, the slaughter would seem greater, and the implications of a second atrocity…before there had been no massive retaliation against the Muslim population. What would the result be this time?
 Some people were in tears, angered and also upset that those who must have been living in their midst for months, years even, could be prepared to do such a thing to them. And there was an actual reluctance to make the broadcast; they knew what the consequences might be once the news was widely known. It was that, as much as anything else, which explained the newsreader's grim and subdued manner. Her face tight and almost expressionless she uttered the fateful words, seeming almost to mumble them; moisture could clearly be seen glistening in one eye.  
 Of course there was no way you could keep a thing like this secret. No way at all. 
 "A suicide bomber {they did not say a Muslim suicide bomber, after all it might not have been}has blown himself up in Trafalgar Square, killing up to forty people and leaving dozens of others injured, some seriously. The explosion, caught on a security camera, happened just half an hour ago at seven minutes past eleven. Police have sealed off the area and ambulances are already on the scene."  
 The screen showed a wounded woman being carried away on a stretcher − the most they could actually show of the effect of the atrocity on human bodies, just then. Counsellors were sitting with the injured and the bereaved, trying to comfort them. The telephone number for worried relatives to ring came up on the screen.
 "...and we're getting reports that another suicide bomber has blown himself up in Times Square in New York." Though the newsreader had slipped into it almost unconsciously, use of the word "another" was significant − and universally accepted by media and public alike. It meant that the whole of the West was being targeted; was in exactly the same situation. The two bombings had taken place thousands of miles apart, but both were the result of victimisation by a small band of evil, genocidal fanatics. "Fifty people are believed to be dead. We'll have more details on the story as it emerges."    
 Over the next few hours the news came flooding in of more and more suicide bombings. Once it was realised what was happening the entire schedule for that day was changed, being devoved entirely to a special programme on the atrocities. They occurred almost simultaneously, so that people could not be galvanised into action by the first and take steps to avoid a recurrence.  
 They happened in Birmingham and New York's Central Park. They happened in Oxford Street and Times Square. They happened in major cities all over the West; in Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Paris, Berlin, Montreal, Sydney, Rome, Amsterdam, Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Moscow, Madrid and Brussels. It felt as if all Hell had been unleashed. 
 People were stunned, subdued, left in tears, weeping unashamedly in their homes and offices and classrooms. And as the news unfolded so did the full horror of what had been done. Eyewitness accounts gave the whole vivid picture a broad dash of humanity.  
 The specially extended six o'clock news carried more pictures of the carnage in Trafalgar Square; of the injured and the bereaved weeping inconsolably, hysterically, from shock or pain or grief. Faces streaming with blood. The following morning the papers, whose first few pages were entirely taken up with the business, carried pictures of all the dead with captions giving their names and ages. Personal details were given of a few who for one reason or other were thought to merit particular mention, which worsened public anguish by reminding everyone that each victim was a person, a human being with an identity, with hopes and fears, and with families who had been left behind to mourn them.
Of those whom the blast had left seriously injured, quite a few did not make it. 
 The deaths of the young people, and of the more attractive of the female victims, heightened the sense of anger and disbelief and disgust. It fuelled a burning rage that cried out in a savage, primal scream to be appeased. 
 "Why should they do this to me?" sobbed one interviewee. "My son never hurt them. Why in all the world could they possibly want to kill him? Would someone explain it to me, please?"
 On the front page of the Daily Telegraph the next day the headline read, "Wave Of Carnage Sweeps World: hundreds dead and dozens injured as suicide bombers strike in Europe and America. al-Qaeda claims responsibility". But that seemed like no more than a clinical statement of fact, inadequate to express the full horror, and the significance, of it all.  
 It was 9/11 and 7/7 all over again − the comparisons were inevitable, but they were justified − and worse. The Queen sent a message of sympathy to the surviving victims and their families and was later seen touring the scene of the devastation, herself struggling to fight back tears. After some initial hesitation on the part of the Prime Minister and his retinue, which occasioned much angry criticism, parliament was recalled.  
 "A repeat of 7/7 was always a possibility, one of which the people of this country were uneasily aware," one reporter told the nation. "But now it has actually happened, and in a way which could not have been anticipated and has taken the entire world by surprise. Even more than on previous occasions the message, the overriding thought in everyone's minds, is that Britain, and the planet, will never be the same again. Michael Shutler, News At Ten, Trafalgar Square." 
 The whole viewing schedule for that evening, up to eleven o'clock, was disrupted. It was now to be taken up with programmes about the bombings, looking at how they could have occurred, whether anything more could have been done by the authorities to prevent them, and what the overall  consequences would be. 
 "What are the implications for the country's Muslim population?" the News At Ten presenter asked one expert.  Although he did not at that point know it, they were already more than just implications. 
 Muslims were even quicker to condemn the atrocity than they had been the previous ones. But that did not save them. The attacks started within an hour of the first bombing becoming public knowledge, and increased as news of the others was released. Racist mobs went on the rampage in London, Bradford, Leicester and other areas with a high Muslim population, firebombing houses and setting upon anyone they happened to come across who had a dark skin and therefore might possibly be a Muslim. People were beaten or stabbed or shot, had petrol poured over them and ignited. They found themselves surrounded by a sea of faces twisted and screaming with hatred, their attackers' voices drowning out everything else in the world as they chanted their mindless abuse. Frightened, crying children cowered in their homes as thugs armed with knives and coshes tried to break down the door, or were hurried from them by frantic parents to be driven off at top speed, never to return. Some people were afraid to go out for weeks afterwards, and were ferried to school or work and back by special bus services which had to run the gauntlet of jeering mobs. Once, in Leeds, the mob surrounded the van being used for the purpose and after some minutes' heaving managed to overturn it. They had almost succeeded in breaking in when the police arrived and scared them off. The fear and terror undergone by those inside could be imagined.
 Undeterred by the thought of arrest, dozens of people of all ages and both sexes gathered in front of mosques all over the country, hurling abuse and brandishing hastily made placards bearing slogans offensive to Islam. 
"You bastards!" they bellowed. "Filthy bastards!"
"Murdering bastards!"
"Scum!"
"Go home you fucking bastards, you Muslim scum!"
 Some had armed themselves with missiles of one kind or another. Soon windows were being smashed and petrol bombs thrown. In a number of cases the building was burnt down, those trapped inside by the baying mob either perishing or surviving with horrific injuries.
 Many arrests were of course made. But the police, suffering from shortage of manpower and other resources, were not always able to cope with the situation.
 The Prime Minister, senior politicians from all three major parties, church leaders and political commentators of all persuasions urged restraint, pleading with the public not to vent their anger on the innocent; they could do nothing else.  It didn't work, of course. Most people did show restraint. The mother of one of the victims of the Trafalgar Square bombing, obviously shattered by her loss but calm and composed, appeared on TV and gave interviews to the papers calling on people not to victimise ordinary Muslims, telling viewers that she did not wish acts of violence to be carried out in her name. Unfortunately, those who did not heed her were a large enough minority to cause serious trouble.
 The rioting lasted, on and off, for several weeks. When it was over almost a hundred people were dead and many more seriously injured, some of them for life. Most of the victims were Muslims, but not all; because sometimes the Muslims fought back, seeing no option but to strike out in self-defence, either singly or in groups of vigilantes formed to carry out acts of revenge, and there were any number of innocents who got caught up in the crossfire. 
 The riots left the country almost as shocked as it had been by the bombings. And very badly scarred. The worst of the violence petered out, as such things do, after a time but sporadic attacks on Muslims and their institutions continued. If not actually assaulted they were spat and shouted at in the street, subjected to cowardly insults hurled at them from behind walls or from within the safety of large, anonymous crowds. Sometimes excrement was pushed through their letterboxes, or their pets were found dumped dead on their doorsteps. People had to give up their jobs due to stress and ill-health. 
 A permanent police guard had to be put on the mosque in Finsbury Park. Many others were forced to close down; they were soon derelict and vandalised, their windows and doors boarded up and chalked with offensive slogans celebrating the departure of the occupants.
 The majority of the population, while holding back from physical violence against Muslims, ostracised them. Unless you knew a Muslim personally, you just couldn't be sure they weren't a terrorist. You couldn't entirely blame people for their attitude. After all, how many more bombings were there to be? No-one going about their normal business, stepping down from the bus to walk down the high street to their place of work, or the shops, could be sure their lives wouldn't suddenly end or their limbs be blown off in a massive and devastating explosion. One member of the public told the press that he was not prepared to live under siege, in constant fear of death like people in Palestine or Northern Ireland, when he had never had to do so in the past. Why should he put up with that kind of thing because of a small minority of genocidal extremists? And yet he couldn't stay shut up in his house all the time. There was only one answer to the problem and that was to freeze the Muslims out.  
 Meanwhile no-one was coming to London; the life of the capital was grinding to a halt. It picked up after a while, of course, as did the morale of the population. People were resilient, finding ways of coping as their parents or grandparents had in the Blitz. After all there could not be enough terrorists around for this kind of thing to happen every day. 
 But the city's recovery was not helped by the departure of the Muslims. For gradually they were leaving the country. They could not exist as part of a ghetto, and yet they were prevented from fully mixing with that mainstream. Some of them were glad to be going, sick and tired of a society which they believed had become increasingly intolerant of them since September 11th. The rioting and the ostracism only served to confirm their opinion of the West. Others were more understanding, but nonetheless felt saddened and withdrawn at the situation. But whether angry, impassive, or merely philosophical in their outward demeanour all were filled with fear for the future. Perhaps they could use the skills they had gained from contact with Western culture to make good in India, Pakistan, the Arab countries. But it would not be easy. Who wanted to return to India with all its poverty and instability and sectarian violence? And they would be the victims of crime and prejudice for being different, after several decades in the West, from other Asians, and because of their supposed wealth. 
 Next Slate saw himself and his family out walking in the park; feeding the ducks, watching the deer from a safe distance. Mother and father grinning at the children's cheerful babbling as they scampered about delightedly, revelling in the sights and sounds and smells of nature.  
 Suddenly Kimberley stopped, turned to her mother and said "Mummy, I don't feel very well."
 The atmosphere was suddenly cold and tense. Michelle dropped to her haunches in front of her daughter, putting her hands on her shoulders. "What's the matter, darling?"
 "I don't know," said the little girl worriedly. "I feel funny..."
"How do you mean, sweetheart?" asked Slate.
"I don't know. Just funny."
 Mum and Dad glanced at each other. "Perhaps we'd better get her to the doctor's," Slate said. 
 Michelle picked her up and they carried her towards the car.  By the time they got there Kimberley was crying and obviously in considerable pain.
"I can't see properly," she wailed. "I can't see!"
 The view before her had turned into a hazy blur. The little girl was frightened now as well as upset.
 "You can't see?" gasped Slate, with a horrible feeling that things were slipping out of his control.
"No!"
 "All right sweetheart, all right!" Slate fumbled in his pocket for the car keys. 
 "Daddy, what's wrong with Kimberley?" Sonia was uneasy and distressed at the situation, infected by her parents' fear and alarm. "What's wrong?" Preoccupied with her sister's plight, they didn't answer her. She planted her thumb in her mouth and sucked it nervously.   
 They had just got Kimberley onto the back seat, Michelle scrambling in with her, when she began to choke, thrashing t convulsively as she struggled to suck in air, her little face turning a horribly vivid shade of blue. "I can't breathe," she managed to gasp. "Mummy I can't breathe I can't breathe I can't br...br...I...I can't...ca..."
 It was quite obvious something nasty was about to happen and would have happened long before they could have got her to hospital. Michelle was shrieking hysterically, her heart torn to shreds by her inability to do anything to save her daughter. Slate shouted at her to keep calm as he got behind the wheel and turned the key in the ignition.  
Shit, he didn't feel that good himself. 
Beside him a little voice spoke. "Daddy, I can't see," said Sonia.
 Then there were hundreds of bodies lying in the street; men, women and kids, their glassy eyes bulging from their sockets and their faces hideously contorted. Along with saliva there was some green stuff oozing from their gaping mouths. Some had their arms clutched tight around the pathetic little bodies of their children, others were locked in the bizarre postures in which they had died an agonising death, clawing the air in their violent convulsions. 
 People of every colour, race, sex, age and nationality, all of them very dead. Killed by the bacteria wafting through the air; tiny, invisible, remorseless and deadly. The authorities had sealed off the street and left the bodies to rot. Vast areas of the capital had been abandoned, to become ghost towns inhabited only by the dead. 
The scenes were similar in America and on the European mainland.
 Fear. Violence. Suffering. Death. Anger. Hatred. A world sucked down into a bottomless whirlpool of horrors from which it knew there would be no escape, not for a very long time.
 Thank God, thought Slate, as he sat up and wiped the sweat from his forehead with a trembling hand, that it was only a dream. 


FORTY-THREE
For the umpteenth time Chris Barrett strained ineffectively at the straps securing him to the bench. He slumped back with a bitter sigh.  
 He could crane his neck sufficiently to see that he was in some kind of laboratory, spacious and well lit. White-smocked, slab-faced figures of diverse ethnic origin were moving about on various tasks, steadfastly resisting all his attempts to communicate with them. He glanced up hopefully as the door opened and a man entered the room. 
 Then he started, gazing wide-eyed as the man came to stand over him. He thought he'd seen that face before, on the news and in the papers; it was that Yu Chen bloke, wasn't it?  
 But now he had discarded his Western clothes and was dressed in the traditional style of a Chinese mandarin. His arms were folded within the sleeves of a blue silken robe elaborately emblazoned with dragons and chrysanthemums. On his head he wore a round black skullcap patterned with yellow beads; on his feet padded slippers which made him appear even taller than he would have been without them. Chris was so overwhelmed by the sight that he almost forgot his situation.  This can't he happening, he thought. 
 Ironically, the man gave a slight bow. Chris was only sorry he wasn't in a position to reciprocate. 
 "I am sorry to have kept you waiting for so long," the Chinaman said. "I have only just returned from Europe, where I have been seeing to urgent business."
 "Oh, right," said Chris. His tone hardened. "Where's Ho?  And Caroline; what have you done to her?"
 "The policeman has managed to escape. It throws my plans into jeopardy, though I commend him nonetheless for his courage and resourcefulness. As for the delightful Miss Kent, I am happy to inform you that she is safe and well. After some deliberation I decided to release her, with a warning not to interfere in my affairs ever again. She left here a little before you arrived."
 Chris closed his eyes and breathed out in relief. "I guess I should thank you for that."
"It is up to you."
"So what happens to me?" he asked.
 "I am afraid you must stay here, Mr Barrett. You are a hostage for her good behaviour. And although the equipment I need is more or less complete, you may be of use to me should any manual labour be required at some point."
 "You're the one behind all this? Behind the kidnappings and everything?"
"All that is over now. I have what I need."
"And what's that?"  
 "Before I answer that question, let me explain what is going to happen to you. I am an expert in mind control. A painless injection is all that is required to turn you into my mental slave. That way you will not attempt to escape, and therefore it will not be necessary to harm you.
 "But it is only fair I give you a choice in the matter. Do you wish to serve me, or die?"
 Chris considered. "While there's life there's hope, I suppose," he muttered.  
 Yu Chen smiled a faintly mocking smile. "I thought you would subscribe to the traditional British practice of noble self-sacrifice, the philosophy of the stiff upper lip. That you would rather die than give me any assistance."
 Chris felt he was being taunted, and didn't care for it. He found himself flaring into anger. "People are too fond of picking on us. They take advantage of it when we turn the other cheek but they complain whenever we prove to be just as human as everyone else."
 "They ought not to do so. No-one is as stoical and as resilient as they like to think − with the exception of the Oriental, of course."
 "You're a different culture," Chris observed. "Personally I'd give a lot to know how you do it."
 There were some things, he supposed, that he would die for. He thought of Caroline.
 The Chinaman studied him thoughtfully, evidently wondering whether he was about to change his mind. "You have family," he said. "To die condemns them, without their permission, to the lasting pain of bereavement."
 Chris knew his emotions were being played on, and glared fiercely at Yu Chen.  
 He decided he couldn't bear the thought of being turned into a zombie without at least knowing what was going on. "Won't you at least tell me what it's all in aid of?"
 Yu Chen inclined his head by way of assent. "You are privileged, Mr Barrett. As you are about to become a Companion, and will be my possession until I decide to let you go, there is no danger in telling you what you wish to know.
 "The world at large knows me as Yu Chen, but it is not my real name. I don't know if you have heard of me, but I am Dr Fu Manchu. In the past I sought to control Presidents, Prime Ministers, monarchs, with nothing less than global  domination as my goal. Domination for China. It is the world's oldest civilisation, and also its most populous nation, yet it has always failed to fulfil its true potential. All civilisations, all societies, crumble and perish in time. But China's time is yet to come, and it has been given to me to hasten it on. It is true that she faces problems which may destroy her, but with the whole world to colonise and dominate she will be able to avoid the pressure of conflicting aspirations, the social overcrowding, that living in one country however large inevitably brings.
 "Under my leadership, all will change. The world as a whole will benefit from the new order. Our patience, our efficiency, our resourcefulness and intelligence, will improve the human condition enormously. But first there are certain barriers which must be accomplished.
 "I sought to destroy the West's power, leaving China free to dominate. Always I was frustrated. Eventually I decided to hide myself from the world, to return later once the geopolitical situation had changed, in case conditions gave me a new advantage.
 "One can view the world today as being divided into two power blocs, though one of them is only just emerging. The geopolitical situation was transformed, of course, with the disappearance of the Soviet Union; the East-West conflict which had characterised international affairs came to an end. It was always likely that new alignments would take its place. Gradually, that is now happening. One could say there is a North-South divide, marked by a line running roughly across the Atlantic from the United States and through the Mediterranean and Central Asia to Vladivostok, between the mainly prosperous and white nations of the north and the poorer, mainly non-white nations of the south. But there is another, equally important division; that between the West and Islam. Both are a threat to China's true destiny, preventing it from gaining its rightful position of world hegemony. The West will not give up its economic, political and military supremacy. And Islam is becoming radicalised, motivated by what it sees as growing fear and distrust towards it. The problems we have with Muslim militants within our own borders are a symptom of that. 
 "In the decades to come the Muslim nations will catch up with the West technologically and militarily. They are not fools. The potential they represent makes them dangerous.  
 "Islam and the West. If China overcame one of them it would then have to contend with the other. Both stand in her way; both must be destroyed. The question for me, when I saw how the world was and decided to accelerate the changes that were taking place, was how should I do so? In my time I flirted with sonic beams, death rays and the like, but they proved a technological dead end. In any case, why should I bother with such things when the weapons Mankind has developed today are destructive enough for my purposes. 
 "My contribution is the mind control. Nuclear, bacteriological and chemical weapons can achieve my objectives − the only problem is how to obtain possession of them. And the easiest way to solve it is by making those who have them give them to me. The mind also provides me with a willing workforce who I do not have to pay and who can be relied upon to keep silence."
"And when you've got your weapons, you're going to start a nuclear war?" 
"Yes."
Chris swallowed. "Between China and the rest of the world?" 
 "No," said Dr Fu Manchu, again pursing his lips in that curious expression which served him for a smile. "That would merely result in both sides being annihilated. The nuclear war will be between the West and Islam. I will destroy my enemies by making them destroy each other."
 I'm not hearing this, thought Chris feverishly. He's mad, he's got to be.  
"H-how?" he gasped.
 "I have been controlling the leader of China's Muslims. I have set him up as the new bin Laden, although the West has no proof of his role in international terrorism. Militant Muslims believe, in any case, that conflict with the West is inevitable. They are resigned to the inevitability of a Holy War. They believe, in fact, that it is foreordained. As long as they prove their faith by destroying the unbeliever they will be victorious. They will dominate the Earth; or, if their fate is to die, attain paradise while the unbelievers burn in hell.
 "Through Li Tan I have been supplying al-Qaeda with the equipment they will need to launch a massive terrorist campaign throughout the Western world − the plastic explosive and the detonators for it. To obtain those materials and get them to al-Qaeda has not been difficult, with the mind control. 
"And the Western hostesses? Where do they fit in?" 
 "There was a special reason why I needed to kidnap Westerners. But to abduct a tourist, an ordinary respectable citizen of the West, would be risky. Much better to take those who were in any case regarded as having put themselves in danger through foolishness, and for whom there was little sympathy because of the nature of what they were doing. If the Western girls were to disappear, it might as well be because they had been kidnapped for sexual slavery as for any other ostensible reason. In fact, I made sure they suffered little lasting damage. As soon as my underlings had their fill of them they were allowed to go; remembering little of their ordeal, again thanks to the mind control.  
 "When these girls, who have never had any connection with extremist political or religious organisations or ever, unless you count their working in Japan without permission, been guilty of any criminal activity, are found and returned to their own countries no-one is going to ask whether they are terrorists. There may also be a degree, at any rate, of compassion for them because of the horrifying ordeal they will be thought to have undergone, which will make it less likely people will suspect them. And their Embassies will arrange their transport home. Rather than pass through customs in the usual fashion they and any belongings they may have will be travelling via the diplomatic bag. They will be able to take back home phials I have given them containing new strains I have developed of various viruses, which can kill on a large scale once they are released. 
 "Once the girls are in position a signal broadcast from a Chen Group satellite will activate the program implanted in their subconscious. They will then release the viruses into the air or water supply in nine major Western cities. The benefits of such a strategy are obvious. It is feared that al-Qaeda terrorists might attempt such a thing. But in any event the police and intelligence services will not be looking for girls from the majority white community, who will cease to invite any comment once the initial media interest in their case has died away. They will be looking for people of Middle Eastern extraction, since they are the kind most likely to be al-Qaeda terrorists. Whereas an Anglo-Saxon-looking blonde, for example…  
 "Later al-Qaeda will claim responsibility for the poisonings. The girls themselves will die, of course; that is a pity, but unavoidable.
 "In each country to be affected, perhaps several million people will perish. And there will be the fear that such an atrocity may be repeated. Everything will be thrown into panic and confusion. In the circumstances it will be impossible to maintain surveillance of possible al-Qaeda terrorists. Once life is just starting to get back to normal, the second part of my plan will be put into operation.
 "Imagine the consequences when dozens of al-Qaeda suicide bombers simultaneously detonate themselves in public places all over the West. Not just in America or Britain. There will be an explosion of rage and hatred against Muslims; or they will be ostracised, regarded everywhere with suspicion and distrust. Millions of them will leave the West, because they cannot possibly be safe there. The West will be blamed for allowing that to happen, and at the same time terrorist groups in the Middle East and Asia will be encouraged by the actions of their comrades in the West to overthrow their moderate governments and attack Western targets. While Muslims are leaving the West Westerners will be leaving the East. They will not want to put their lives and those of their families at risk any longer. 
 "The result will be a divided world. While the West is hardened against Islam, al-Qaeda governments will come to power throughout the Muslim lands. In Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Algeria, Jordan, the Gulf states, Tunisia, Morocco. In Libya the maverick Gaddafi may elude me, but that does not matter. The new global division will be reinforced. In such a world it is much more likely that there will be tension, misunderstanding...incidents. That co-operation will cease and people will suspect anything of one another.  
 "Pakistan of course already has nuclear weapons. But for the devastation to be as wide as possible there must be a whole belt of radical Muslim states, each armed with weapons of mass destruction − with which I will have by then supplied them. The materials are presently stored here in this building; the last consignment of krytons − nuclear triggers − arrived here a couple of days ago."
 Chris thought of the objects he had seen in the crate in Dai Sang's warehouse. That was it − nuclear triggers. Things for arming the warheads of nuclear missiles, weren't they? 
 "In a climate of division and hatred it will be much more likely that nuclear war will be permissible. It may be the West which launches the first missile, or it may be the Muslims. It matters little, for my mind control will ensure that one or the other does what I want it to.
 "We in China will be safe. We will survive, as we have survived so many other disasters throughout our history. To inherit the Earth."
"And then," Dr Fu Manchu purred, "the world shall feel the dragon's claws."
 His lips twisted in contempt. "Consider this ridiculous Pax Americana by which the United States thinks it can impose democracy at the point of a gun, in Iraq, Syria, Iran and elsewhere, to remake everything in its own image, and not provoke a backlash that will destabilise the entire world.  Her ultimate target, her ultimate goal, is China, and we must protect ourselves. America is using the Arab world as a testing ground for her assault on us." Dr Fu Manchu laughed − it was a dry, hollow sound of the kind a corpse would have made if corpses had been in the habit of laughing. "How appropriate, and amusing," he smiled, "if the strategy were to backfire on her suddenly and disastrously. Let the means of her triumph be instead her Nemesis!"
 Chris had been listening to it all in utter horror. "I don't believe it," he managed to gasp. "It's crazy. Twisted. You'd kill thousands, millions of people, for the sake of..."
 Dr Fu Manchu gave his strange half-smile. "Do you still wish to serve me now you are acquainted with the details of my plan? You did ask to know."
 But Chris was quite unable to speak. Dr Fu Manchu studied him for a while, then with a gesture of impatience made up his mind. Chris was quite oblivious of him signalling to the massive figure who had entered the room to stand at his side. He felt his sleeve being rolled up, the prick of a needle against his wrist. But he was in such a state of traumatised horror that when he lost consciousness it probably didn't make a great deal of difference.


FORTY-FOUR
Southampton, England
After unloading from the container vessel the crate was moved to a warehouse, owned by Dai Sang's company, on the perimeter of the dockyard. The port authority personnel who handled it sincerely believed the materials it contained were for use in making personal stereos and CD players. After all, that was what the official who drew up and signed the cargo manifest in Shanghai had written.  
 That night a van driven by two men, one dark and Arab-looking and the other fair, pulled to a stop outside the entrance to the docks. One of them made a call from his mobile phone, and a minute later the electrically operated gates swung open allowing the van to drive through onto the premises. Finding the Dai Sang Company warehouse, it drove round to the loading bay at the far end of the building, whose doors were already open. There the men got out of the van to be greeted by an employee of the company who helped them transfer the contents of the crates to a number of cardboard boxes, which were then stacked in the back of the van. 
 A few hours earlier he had been shifting various heavy items around the place when he had glimpsed something gleaming and silvery flying towards him out of the corner of his eye, the light flashing off it, and felt a brief, sharp pain in his neck. But he had remembered nothing. It had been the same for the gate guard.  
 Nobody ever noticed anything strange about their behaviour; even the terrorists believed they were working for an international arms smuggling syndicate, contacted some time ago by Li Tan; who, like so many people nowadays, were willing to do anything for anyone in return for money provided there was no possibility of detection. Dr Fu Manchu had decided that it was far too dangerous for them to know about the mind control.
 
Closing the door and setting down her travel bag, Louise Bannerman looked round her familiar bedroom in Vancouver, Canada and felt tears pricking at her eyes. She had never before been so glad to see it. 
 She sat down on the bed with her head in her hands, overwhelmed by everything that had happened to her in the last few weeks. Her parents had been supportive and forgiving, telling her everything was OK and they'd all sit down and have a good long talk at some point in the near future. She supposed that would be the best thing. But right now she just didn't know what to do, what to think.
 After a while she got up and began to unpack from her bag all the stuff she'd had when she was in Japan and had brought back with her. The simple task had a therapeutic effect, making her forget the trauma of what had been done to her while in captivity.   
 When she had removed all the contents and put each item away in its proper place, she shoved the bag underneath her bed and left it there.  
 It was not quite empty. Buried beneath the folds of canvas at the very bottom of the bag, where she had concealed it the night before (though she had no recollection of doing so now),in such a way that you wouldn't have noticed it unless you had already known it was there and were looking for it, was a small white plastic box. In it was a tiny plastic tube less than an inch long, with a cap over the top sealed tightly in place so that the substance inside should not escape until Dr Fu Manchu wanted it to.

Gradually, Sarah Hitchcott knew, she would settle back into life in the Hertfordshire market town where she lived. Sometimes she was all right and sometimes she would go into a state of cold shock at the thought of what had been done to her; she understood it was the same with the other girls.  But she could cope. Though she might perhaps have been unwise, Sarah was certainly no weakling.
 Her local paper were planning a feature on her homecoming, and she had already appeared on national and regional television posing for a press photographer with her family, standing between her mother and father who had their arms wrapped lovingly about her shoulders. On the whole, though, media coverage had been sparse.
 She knew what would happen. For a brief period the matter would remain a cause celebre, then something relatively more important would come along and displace it from the nation's consciousness.
 Though no doubt they were pleased she was back safe and well, the general public would still think of her as a prostitute. It occurred to her with a pang of guilt that if she had slept with her clients in return for money, though only occasionally, then that was what she was. It suited her for what publicity there was to die down. In any case, all she wanted right now was to relax with her family and her friends and return gradually to normal life. After a while she'd perhaps get in touch with one of the papers and arrange a "set the record straight" interview. Whether she'd go back to hostessing or not she wasn't sure. Maybe after a while...She wondered if the matter would affect her chances of getting another job. She'd wait for a bit, she decided, before embarking on her jobsearch (forget the Postgraduate course, she'd decided). By then, she reckoned, everyone would have well and truly forgotten the whole affair. It would be as though it had never happened.  

Ho gazed reflectively out of the window of the bus as it neared the outskirts of Lanzhou, pondering his immediate situation. So far he had had no further trouble from Yu Chen's agents. But with a cold, uneasy thrust of dread he told himself they would have guessed where he was heading for. And were waiting for him there?
 The man beside him leaned forward and spat a thick gobbet of saliva onto the floor of the bus. Another, a few seats away, tossed the still-burning butt of his cigarette into the aisle, making a half-hearted attempt to grind it out with the sole of his shoe.
 Loose sheets of metal clanking and creaking like the joints of some unwieldy steel monster, the bus finally limped into the station and one by one disgorged its passengers. Ho stood getting his bearings for the moment, then set off towards the centre of the little town. He had already decided to make for the Republic, the town's principal hotel, where there would be several phone booths in the lobby. A box out in the street felt too uncomfortably exposed.  
 He ordered a taxi to take him to the hotel, feeling much safer inside the vehicle than walking about in the open. It came to a halt a few yards down the street from the hotel entrance behind a row of other, stationary vehicles. Ho paid off the driver and stepped out onto the pavement. 
 As the taxi drove off he glanced around him, his eyes panning across the street. His whole body was stiff with tension.
 At that moment there were a fair amount of people about. And any one of them could be an assassin.  
 If he stood there for too long he would attract attention.  And if he didn't make a move sometime he'd never get the job done. 
 He waited until the crowd thinned out a bit, then steeled himself with a deep breath. He was about to move off when he became aware of a man coming along the pavement towards him, a man casually dressed in trousers and open-necked shirt, just like thousands of other people in China.
Could this be...
 For all he knew it could. Ho remained where he stood, his eyes fixed on the man, intending to gaze after him as he went past. He would not take his eyes off him until he was too far away to shoot at Ho.
 The man saw Ho, registered his manner. But walked on under the policeman's hard stare.
 Since he could see Ho was on his guard he wouldn’t try anything now, surely?
He drew level with him.
 And in a flash his hand was in the pocket of his suit and out again clutching an automatic pistol, his body simultaneously swinging round to bring him face-to-face with the policeman.  
 Ho reacted instantly to the suddenness of the movement. He threw himself forward, at the gunman's legs, the shot passing over his head as he dived and drilling a hole in the wall of a building on the other side of the street. Ho sprawled at the gunman’s feet, having miscalculated the distance slightly. 
 He must bring the man down before he could get off a second shot. Still in a prone position, he rotated his body rapidly through a half circle and lashed out with both legs, kicking the assassin's feet from under him. The man fell to his knees with an impact that jarred them painfully, and his grip on the gun slackened.
 Ho kicked out again and the gun flew from his hands, to clatter on the pavement several feet away. As the assassin sprang to his feet Ho did the same, darting behind him and seizing him round the neck. His fingers groped for the points at which to apply pressure and paralyse the man's nervous system.  
 The man's head jerked up sharply, catching Ho on the chin with painful force. Ho's concentration was momentarily broken and the man drove upward with both arms, knocking Ho’s off him.
 He turned from Ho, saw the gun on the pavement and ran to retrieve it. The policeman dashed after him.
 By the time he had grabbed the pistol, straightened up and turned to confront Ho the policeman was almost on top of him.  He fired without having time to aim properly. Ho lurched backwards as the bullet smashed into his shoulder, striking a fountain of blood from it. His face twisted.
 One arm flying to his shoulder, he lifted a leg and for the second time kicked the pistol out of the assassin's grasp.  
 The next kick, delivered with savage force, took the man right between the legs, landing on the most delicate and vulnerable part of his anatomy. He staggered back with a shrill high-pitched cry, both hands going to his genitals.  As he lurched away from Ho still shrieking in agony, the policeman staggered to where the gun lay, gritting his teeth against his own pain.  
 Falling on top of it, he wriggled to one side and reached out to grasp it, rolling onto his back with the weapon in his hand as his opponent, now recovered, turned to look for it.
 The man saw him pointing it up at him and hesitated. Their eyes locked.  
 The gun wavered in Ho's grasp as the pain from his shattered shoulder stabbed through him. The man made a hesitant move towards him, then stepped back. 
What would he do?  
Pretend to go away and then...
They continued to stare at one another.
 There must be no ruses, no treachery. It was simply too important that he completed his mission.  
The man started to move out of his line of fire.  
 Ho pulled the trigger. The man took a few tottering steps back and crashed heavily to the pavement, his life draining rapidly away. 
 With an effort Ho levered himself to his feet. He slipped the gun into his pocket and clasped the hand that had held it to his shoulder, feeling the warm wet liquid trickle between his fingers. He hurried over to the door of the hotel and staggered through it. As he made for the row of phone booths the people in the foyer saw his bleeding shoulder and backed away in some alarm. One or two made to help him and he waved them away fiercely.  
 With his good arm he reached into his pocket and took out his ID card, brandishing it before them. "Hong Kong police. I...I have an...I have an urgent call to make."  
 A uniformed porter hurried forward. "Can you not let us make the call?" 
 "No. It is police business." He managed to raise his voice a little. "Would you all please leave the foyer."
 His assertion of authority had the desired effect. They all hurried away as he staggered on towards the phones.
 He picked up the receiver and left it lying on top of the phone while he dug in his pocket for his wallet. His fingers found the zip and after some tugging pulled it back a little.  They groped inside and scrabbled around frantically.
 Pulling out a coin he inserted it into the slot, lifted the receiver and dialled the number of International Directory of Enquiries. All the time his useless arm hung like a lead weight at his side, completely numb.
 In a moment he was speaking to the operator. "How can I help you?"
 "My name is Tsien Ho, Hong Kong Police Department. I need you to put me in touch with the British Security Services, urgently."
 As he started to deliver his message he could just hear the first police sirens somewhere in the distance.

FORTY-FIVE
Hundreds of miles above the world in the cold, dark, silent void of space a gleaming black cylinder hung in geostationary orbit, completely motionless. Until one of its aerials began to rotate, angling downwards to point at a spot somewhere in the east of the vast Eurasian land mass; in China. 
Steadily, it bleeped out its deadly signal.  

At the complex in Gansu the topmost roof of the pagoda structure came slowly apart, splitting into four hinged segments which opened out like the petals of a flower. With a gentle hum of electronics a satellite dish mounted on a tall slender pole rose up from the interior of the building, extending to a height of ten feet above what had been the apex of the roof. The dish tilted so that the rod projecting from its centre was pointing directly upwards. The aerials on either side of the disc began to rotate, huge flat panels that amplified the signal transmitted by the satellite and beamed it out over thousands of miles, to north, south, east and west. Across the entire globe.  

Looking down through the window of the United Airlines 747 Caroline saw the eastern seaboard of the US come into view, the familiar landmarks of New York City spread out below. She caught sight of the Statue of Liberty and smiled affectionately. 
 She wished she was in a better mood to appreciate it. All the time she was thinking how cruel it was for Lisa to surmount the trauma of her son's death through such heroic efforts only for Fate to deal her a blow like this.
 The flight had been an uneventful one, and the thought made her reflect on what might have made it otherwise. There had been attempted hijacks since September 11th, because young radical Muslim hotheads saw 9/11, the great achievement of their mentor Osama bin Laden, as something to be emulated. But now of course people were vigilant. For the hijackers there would always be the risk that the passengers, guessing what their fate was to be and having nothing to lose, would rush them regardless of the likelihood that some of them might get killed.  
 Certainly no-one was going to fly her into a skyscraper.  She thought with relish of what she might do to the hijacker to overpower him. Yep, we're talking losing a body part here. 
She almost wished she could have the chance.
 A few minutes later, the clear melodious tones of a stewardess came over the Intercom to announce that the plane was about to land at JFK. She felt the movement as it banked and started to descend, and with it came a plunging sensation of nausea at what awaited her in a few hours' time. What state would she find her friend in?
 The sick feeling of dread increased as the plane touched down and then gradually slowed to a halt. She took a deep breath and braced herself. If she was in a depressed mood the feeling would communicate itself to Lisa and if anything make her recovery even less likely.  
 After passing through Customs, a process which took longer now with the tighter security checks introduced after you-know-what, she walked across the concourse to the Transamerica counter to purchase her ticket for San Francisco. 
 She'd almost reached it when she stopped abruptly in her tracks. Changing direction, she made for one of the phone booths on the other side of the vast room. From there she rang for a taxi to take her to the city centre. To the subway on 52nd street.  

In her office at MI6 Rachel Savident sat deep in thought, trying to evaluate Ho's news and decide what it could possibly mean.  
 He had seen the kidnapped Western girls at this remote complex way out in the wilds of western China, at a location they hadn't pinpointed yet. Fah Lo Suee and Caroline had told her that Fu Manchu was the man ultimately running the Far Eastern white slave network. If he was honourable and only wanted the money, for some purpose he regarded as essential, why had they been taken to the complex? Why bother shipping them hundreds of miles out there before returning them to Japan and Hong Kong? Her first thought was that it had been to provide some form of relief for its personnel, stuck out in that remote desert location, but she had soon dismissed it. 
 They would have to have spent a fair amount of time in Hong Kong and Tokyo, in the clutches of the slavers, if Fu Manchu were to keep the latter happy. They could not have been at the complex for that long before being released. It wouldn't have been worth sending them there unless it had been for some quite different reason than sex.  
 It must have been a part of his overall plan. Whatever that plan was.
 From the description Ho had given the place seemed like some kind of military or industrial complex. What was going on there?
 Ackroyd had said Dr Fu Manchu was developing weapons of mass destruction. She suspected the items Ho and Chris Barrett had seen in the crate at Dai Sang's in Shanghai, and which Ho had managed to describe to the authorities in China, were something to do with that. 
 Weapons of mass destruction. Weapons like nuclear missiles.  Radiological bombs. Toxic chemicals. And...     
She thought she knew now what Dr Fu Manchu was trying to do.
 He had always seen the West as an enemy which must be destroyed or reduced to chaos. And he had kidnapped nine women from leading Western nations; an Australian, a Canadian, a Russian, two Britons, a Swede, a Norwegian, a French girl and a German.  
 An American. There would have to be an American, surely. And there would have been only Mary Jean Patterson had tried to escape and ended up breaking her neck.  
And he'd let Caroline go.  
It all fell sickeningly into place.
 She snatched up the phone and dialled Caroline's office at International Petroleum. They told her she wasn't available at the moment; she'd said she was going to visit a friend in America who was sick. 
America.
 Rachel went very cold and still. Her mouth dried up and she could feel her heart start to beat faster.
 And if Caroline was already on her way to America, that must mean the other girls…
 No, they didn't know where exactly in America Caroline was heading. Thanking them, Rachel tried her parents, pretending she needed to speak to her purely for social reasons. They couldn't be sure, but they thought Caroline's friend lived in San Francisco.  
 Of course that might not be where she was making for. In any case though she'd be going via JFK.
 She grabbed the phone and dialled the Service's special hotline to Scotland Yard. They would liaise with the various police forces around the world.  
 She told them as much as security allowed. "It's vital those girls are brought in now. We can't afford to waste a second. Now, do you understand?"
 
In her apartment in one of the northern suburbs of Sydney, Australia, Cathryn Robson tucked the little plastic box safely away in the inside pocket of her overcoat, buttoned it up and set off on her journey to the city's Central Station.  
 She had almost reached the door of the flat when the bell rang. Cautiously, she opened it to see a smartly-dressed man and woman standing before her. 
 "Miss Robson?" enquired the man, as he and his colleague flashed their ID cards at her. "DI Shaw and DS Logan, Brents Hill police. I wonder if we might have a word with you. Can we come in?"
 She hesitated, then stepped back to let them enter, pulling the door fully open. "Nothing wrong, I hope?"
 "I'm afraid I'm going to have to take you into custody," he said apologetically.
 He saw her stiffen, an odd kind of look appearing on her face. It had suddenly turned into a frozen mask.
"What for?" she asked. 
 The policeman hesitated, uneasy. "It's a little difficult to explain, Miss Robson. But you shouldn't be in any danger. We're just taking you in, for your own safety and the public's."
"Can't you tell me why?"
 "We believe you may have been exposed to an infectious disease while you were in Japan. If it's treated now there shouldn't be any problem." He took a step towards her. "It's for your own − " 
 She moved swiftly and with terrifying suddenness, hand raised to strike him. He reacted just in time, grabbing her upraised arm and holding it in a powerful, vice-like grip.  With a desperate wrench she broke free, turning to face his colleague as he ran to deal with her. In a lightning move she grabbed him by the wrists before he could do the same to her, heaved and twisted.
And threw him clean across the room.

Anti-Terrorist Squad Incident Room, Scotland Yard
"Right," said Mike Thompson. "Thanks for letting us know."  He put down the phone and looked up at the anxiously hovering figure of Derek Slate, just back from his lunch break.
 "I don't know what you're going to make of this," he began.  "They've all been accounted for except the Hitchcott girl and the one in the States. Each of them had a box with an ampoule of something or other, probably poison, inside it, either on their clothes or hidden away among their belongings."
 Slate's face showed his relief, but he knew there was no time to relax. "Where is Sarah Hitchcott now?"
 "Four officers from her local force have gone to pick her up. It would have been two but then we got the warning from Oz. Listen, Guv. Most of the girls were stopped and the stuff taken off them before anything happened. But the girl in Australia, she was just about to leave with the ampoule in her overcoat pocket when their boys called. She wouldn't come quietly. In fact she tossed one of them about like he was a rag doll and it took quite a fight before they were able to get the cuffs on her. They say her strength was...incredible.  Superhuman."
 He added, "when she realised they were on to her she tried to crush the ampoule where she stood."
 Slate frowned, trying to absorb the news. "Bloody hell," he said at length. "Hmmm. Well in that case we'd better watch ourselves.  
 At that moment the phone rang again, and Slate snatched it up. "Incident Room, DI Slate speaking...I see. Give us a description...." He grabbed a pen and started scribbling on a spare sheet of filepaper. "OK, thanks. Well, just keep on looking for her and tell us immediately there are any developments. You can get me here or on my mobile. No don't worry, we'll put out the alert. Remember you're to leave her alone for the moment, unless it looks like there's about to be an incident. Just keep an eye on her."
 Slate slammed the receiver back down, breathing hard. "They were just too late. Sarah Hitchcott's disappeared. She'd been staying with her parents while she got over the shock of what happened in Japan. They'd gone out to see some friends and when they came back their car was gone, Sarah too."  
 Ross Kerr was standing nearby, and Slate thrust the flimsy at him. "Did you get all that, Ross?"
"Yes, Guv. I'll get that alert out."
 "Only to the other forces. If it goes out on the news and she hears it, or some brave member of the public tries to stop her, God knows what'll happen."
 In seconds Kerr had begun radioing Sarah Hitchcott's details, and the car's description and registration number, to every police force in the country. "Please instruct all cars to look out for a blue Renault Megane, registration number K789 RXB. Driver is a white female aged 22, fair hair, wearing a pink blouse and beige-coloured trousers. If you see the vehicle you are to notify the Incident Room at Scotland Yard immediately." He read out the number. "Give chase, but do not apprehend unless ordered to do so. Keep at a safe distance but do not lose sight."
 Meanwhile Slate went over to the giant map of south-east England which took up a fair amount of one wall. 
 Thompson had moved with him. "Where do you reckon she's making for?" he asked, speaking his superior's thoughts.
 "It could be anywhere where there's lots of people," Slate answered despairingly. "Shit, if only we had some idea."  
 How much of a head start had the girl had on the police who had been sent to apprehend her? The unspoken thought in both men's minds was that they might already be too late. Slate rounded sharply on his colleague. "I want the choppers airborne and the Response Team ready in five minutes. I'll be round the back, in the yard."  
With a brief nod Thompson hurried off.  
 Quickly Slate downed the last few dregs of his coffee before going out to wait for the Response Team. His thoughts were grim. He didn't really want to shoot Sarah Hitchcott but if it proved the only way to stop her he knew he must not hesitate to do so. As for getting permission to use firearms, that wasn't necessary; the Commissioner had told him at the outset that he could use his own judgement in such matters. 
 The Response Team had each been carefully trained and picked, identified as men of sound mind and steady nerve.  But as the one in overall control of the operation, he had to be there. To make sure nothing went wrong, for Sarah's sake as much as everyone else's. If anything did go wrong, on his own head be it.    
 The Response Team was quickly assembled and given its briefing. There would be strict scrutiny of every officer's actions. If he or she fired when it wasn't absolutely necessary, he or she would take the rap. "Don't shoot unless there's no other way; until the very last moment. OK? It's only one life but we don't want to lose it if we can avoid that." 
 With that everyone piled into the van, Slate in the front passenger seat and Thompson in the back with the Response Team. They drove out of the yard, round to the front of the premises, and then off down Victoria Street, their sirens wailing. While they were speeding as fast as possible through the streets of the capital towards the M25 the helicopters were lifting off from their bases at Heathrow Airport and RAF Northolt, to circle London and its environs keeping a close eye on all the major roads going in and out of the capital. 

PCs June Ashcroft and Ron Stoakes sat in their car by the side of the motorway, watching the traffic flash by and waiting for any signal from the speed trap that a driver was exceeding the safety limits. 
 Theirs was one of the most boring jobs a police officer had to do. You could perhaps try and count the number of Porsches or Skodas you saw, but such a way of passing the time was less rewarding these days since cars tended mostly to look the same and the different makes were harder to distinguish.  Although you could distinguish them, if you were looking out for them.
 One by one in monotonous succession they went past, none it seemed going any faster than the trap knew was safe. A red Austin Rover, a green Citroen 2XV, a beige-coloured Mini Metro. A lime green Lada, a yellow Porsche.  
A blue Renault Megane.
And it looked like there was a blonde driving.  
 "It's that girl!" yelled Ashcroft. She grabbed her radio, in her excitement almost gabbling the callsign into it. "Have spotted suspect known as Sarah Hitchcott heading southward down M25 towards western outskirts of London. Over."

While the van containing the Response Team turned on to the M25 and set off in pursuit of the blue Renault Megane, in constant contact with the car and helicopter patrols and ready to move in as soon as Sarah Hitchcott reached what appeared to be her destination, in the Incident Room at the Yard Bob Morris, Ross Kerr and two other officers were studying the map on the wall and attempting to work out from it where Sarah Hitchcott might be heading. The positions of the Renault and the pursuing police vehicles appeared as moving dots of light on a radar screen, one a fraction behind the other.  
 "She could have done it at home, or in the high street," Morris was telling his colleagues. "She must be heading somewhere special, somewhere the stuff will spread more easily. We have to find something in that area which foots the bill."
 He picked up a pointer from the table and waved it over the North London area. "If she's making for somewhere in the city I'd expect her to have turned off the motorway by now, but she hasn't. It looks like she's ignoring London and heading for some location outside it." His eye continued to rove about the part of the Thames Valley nearest London. And fell on two large blue squares just within the circle formed around the capital by the motorway, a couple of miles north of Staines. Those blue squares represented reservoirs.  
 Reservoirs that provided water for a substantial section of the capital, some two or three million people.  
Morris's face tightened.  

Her eyes fixed squarely on the road ahead, and bereft of all emotion, Sarah Hitchcott drove on, concentrating only on her driving and on one other thought; that she must, simply must, get to the reservoir and empty the contents of the ampoule into it. She didn't know why, but if she could it would be the most wonderful, most desirable, most fantastic thing in the whole world. She would react to sudden changes of direction by other motorists, or anything else which might threaten her safety, but otherwise nothing that happened around her aroused any interest. Her face was a blank impassive mask, her mind totally void of any thought save that of completing her mission.
She noted the roadsign looming up on her left. Just coming up to Junction 13. 
 There she turned off the motorway along the road which would take her to her destination. She glanced down at the atlas which lay open on the passenger seat, getting her bearings. Not long to go now.
 A couple of turnings later she found herself driving through a large, straggling village, a jumble of old buildings and new, with a church and a half-timbered eighteenth century inn at its centre. It started to thin out and ahead of her she saw the huge flat expanse of water sparkling in the sunshine. The Princess of Wales Reservoir.  
 There was a car park adjacent to it. She had no trouble finding a space there, for it was completely empty. She guessed that the presence of the car park meant the reservoir was used for boating and other recreational activities, like the one near where she lived. In which case, why was it deserted? Did it mean the police knew where she was and were preparing to intercept her?  
 They would be very careful what they did. They'd be afraid that if they tried to stop her she'd break the ampoule. They couldn't be sure that the substance it contained would only flourish in water. 
 After hesitating for a moment or two she got out of the car and began walking towards the pair of ornate wrought-iron gates mounted in a break in the concrete wall which encircled the reservoir. She had removed the ampoule from its box and was clasping it in the fingers of one hand, tightly but not quite tight enough to break it.  
 The police had reached the scene a fraction before Sarah Hitchcott. The van had stopped in a street a quarter of a mile from the route she had taken to reach the reservoir, and out of sight from it. Slate and his team had stationed themselves in the little wood which bordered the reservoir. They had already had the local force organise a hurried evacuation of the area around it. Whatever happened it was important the public, for the public's own safety, didn't get in the way.  
 Keeping his voice as low as possible Slate had radioed the team of observers, themselves armed, who had hurriedly taken up position in a copse on the other side of the reservoir and about a quarter of a mile from it. "If she looks like she's going to throw anything into the reservoir, you're to shoot immediately," he had told them, glancing at the other members of the Response Team to make clear the instruction applied to them too. He bit his lip. "Shoot to kill; if you don't take her out the first time we risk blowing it."
 The radio in his hand crackled. "We can see the car, Sir!  She's got out and she's going towards the gates." 
 "What does the reservoir look like from where you are?  What's its layout? We can't see from here."
 The leader of the observation team scanned the half-mile wide stretch of water carefully through his binoculars.  "There's a kind of cut going across it which divides it in two. Safety barriers on either side of the cut. That's about all I can say. And a concrete bit sticking out into the water, a sort of jetty with steps going down, that you can cast off boats from."
 "Nowhere that could give us cover, if we tried to sneak up and catch her unawares?"
"Nowhere, I'm afraid."
"How far between the fence at the top and the water's edge?"
 "About a hundred yards. There's the jetty there, like I said. Hey, the girl's started climbing the steps to the top."
"Have you got a clear view of her?"
"Yes, Guv."
 The reservoir had been sunk within a huge artificial mound, shaped rather like a giant Yorkie bar, the sides of which were stepped and the top reached by a concrete path which zig-zagged from one level to the next. 
 They knew the girl was probably in some kind of hypnotic trance. That would explain the fierce attack on the officers in Australia. The conditioning was so powerful that when she was obstructed in carrying out her orders it resulted in violent resistance. How did they break it? Slate had no idea, and no time to find out.
 They could have told the water company to suspend the whole water treatment process. But that would have caused massive disruption, and with it massive panic. And people would want to know the reason for the disruption.  
They could take her out now, Slate thought. Just like that.
 If they called out or left the wood and made a move towards her, she might break the ampoule.  
At any moment he would have to make a decision.  
 If they shot her her death reflex might crush the ampoule.  Whatever was in there probably wasn't airborne, or she wouldn't have come here. Slate didn't want to take the chance. But he might have no option other than to do so. 
 Slate heard the observer's voice again. "Guv, listen. From the look on the girl's face I'm not sure she knows what's going on around her. And I can see a second path going vertically up the narrow bit on the east side of the reservoir. I don't know if it's the same at the west end, but if it is you might be able to creep up and jump her before we have to..." 
 Slate made the decision on an impulse. "I'll have a go. You have your orders - shoot if it goes apeshit."
 Moving slowly and carefully, he padded towards a break in the wood near its eastern edge, which more or less faced the narrow sloping end of the giant Yorkie-shaped mound. Emerging from it, he saw to his relief that there was indeed a vertical path to the top here, corresponding to the one Hampson had seen at the other end.
 Here he would be out of Sarah Hitchcott's vision as she climbed the walkway at the side of the structure. But what if Hampson had been wrong in his estimation of the time he had left? 
 He decided to ignore the path, instead kicking off his shoes and scrambling up the grass-covered surface. He must make as little sound as possible. 
 Every few moments the voice from his radio updated him on Sarah Hitchcott's progress. Slate judged she was too far away to hear it.  
She had started climbing up the mound, walking in stiff robot-like strides.
 Mike Thompson meanwhile was staring in the direction Slate had gone, looking uncertain. Some indefinable instinct finally decided him. "I'm going to give him a hand," he told the others. "Stay here until you're needed." He moved off after Slate. 
 The Inspector had reached the top of the mound. Sarah was not yet there, would not see him if she should look to the right. He scanned the view before him and thought carefully. 
 Where would she empty the ampoule into the water from? The safety barriers would prevent her doing it from the cut.  
He hoped to God she wasn't going to just throw it in.
 From the concrete apron running along the sides of the reservoir there descended a grass-covered embankment from which canoes were launched into the water, with a narrow ledge at its foot, the top of a concrete retaining wall rising about four feet out of the water. The slope of the embankment made it awkward to stand there, and the ledge was a little too narrow.
The jetty...
 He felt a sudden joyous thrill of hope. If he ran along the ledge the embankment would hide it from Sarah's view. And the embankment ended almost at the point where the jetty began.
 There was still no sign of her. He told Hampson not to call him again. Then he sprinted forward, ran to the edge of the embankment, and slid down it onto the concrete ledge. He began working his way along the ledge, ignoring the painful scraping of his bare feet on the concrete, the bruised and torn skin, the bleeding. 
 Sarah mounted the last step and walked forward onto the concrete apron. She turned to the left and began making her way across the apron towards the jetty. If she heard Derek Slate's approach she showed no sign of it. She just kept on walking. Her only thought now was to complete her mission, whatever might be in danger of thwarting it.
 Hampson beside him studying her through the binoculars would tell the marksman hidden in the copse if he needed to fire.  The eyes of the concealed policemen followed her as she walked on; all the time the marksman kept her within his sights, the barrel of his rifle moving slowly to the left. 
 Once she had reached the water she would empty the ampoule into it. She had about sixty seconds of her life left.  
Fifty seconds.
Forty seconds.
Thirty seconds.
Twenty.
 Sarah had almost reached the jetty. Then Derek Slate scrambled up the embankment onto the concrete apron and planted himself directly in front of her. He raised his arms placatingly. "Sarah. Listen to me, Sarah."  
Sarah stopped, and turned sharply to face him, frowning. 
 In the break in the copse the barrel of the rifle jerked sharply to the right. The cross-hairs of its sights came to rest directly in the centre of Sarah's forehead.  
Then several things happened, more or less simultaneously.
 Cornered, Sarah dug one hand into her pocket. Slate understood the gesture. She was going to take out the ampoule and throw it into the water. The police marksmen saw it at the same time.
 Instantly Slate dived at Sarah's legs in a low-angle rugby tackle, just as the marksman pulled the trigger.  
 The ampoule flew out of her hand and hit the concrete surface of the jetty, rolling a few inches across it, towards the edge.
 The bullet missed Sarah by a fraction, streaking on through the air to drill a six-inch deep hole in the trunk of a tree in the nearby wood. She and Slate rolled on the ground, Sarah pounding and scratching at the inspector furiously.
 The marksman lowered his rifle, swearing softly, reluctant to fire at Sarah for fear of hitting Slate. He waited for a better chance.
 Mike Thompson, coming along the concrete apron, broke into a run, sprinting towards the two struggling bodies.
 He had almost reached them when Sarah's elbow caught the ampoule and knocked it, setting it rolling again towards the edge of the jetty. Thompson saw it, darted round Slate and Sarah and dived for it, hoping he wouldn't land on top of the little white capsule and crush it. 
 In his haste he miscalculated the distance. As he landed flat on the concrete his fingers brushed the ampoule, sending it rolling once more. It continued to travel towards the edge, the force of the impact lending it speed.  
 He had just one more chance. Scrambling to his feet, he ran and dived forward again, calculating distance and position, his arm this time reaching up and then coming down to form a barrier between the ampoule and the empty air beyond the edge of the jetty. Again he miscalculated. The ampoule fell between his fingers and the edge, hit the side of his hand and started to slide off it.
 As he felt it slip away he shifted the hand to the right, splaying the fingers out. 
Got it.  
 The ampoule was now supported at both ends. Slowly he began to lift his hand, rolling the ampoule gently up the smooth concrete of the parapet, a fraction at a time.
 It reached the top, rolled over the edge towards him. His fingers closed around it.
 Slowly he stood up, keeping a tight hold on the little capsule. He thrust it into his pocket.
 He turned from the water's edge just as Sarah threw Slate off her with a savage heave and sprang to her feet. She backed away from the two policemen, lips twisted in an animal-like snarl. 
 Five hundred yards away the officer with the rifle hesitated. Then Slate got to his feet, blocking his view of Sarah.
 The girl was glancing around for the ampoule. She saw Thompson look around too, then suddenly freeze, his mouth open and his eyes bulging in an expression of horror. "The ampoule!" he shouted to Slate. "Where is it?"
Slate stared back at him wildly.
 "It came out..." Thompson glanced desperately about him. "It's gone!" he shouted, still with that look of horror on his face. "It's gone over the edge!"
 Sarah stared at him for a moment. Then she gave a little star, and relaxed like a rope suddenly gone slack, shoulders slumping. The expression on her face changed, as if a hand had passed across it wiping away the fixed mask-like stare. She gazed round at her surroundings, the expanse of water between the concrete parapets and the woods and countryside in the distance, then at the two policemen, her look one of utter bewilderment.  
Finally she managed to speak. "Where am I?"

New York
Two FBI agents were questioning the head of security at Kennedy Airport in his office. "We need to find out if you've got a passenger named Caroline Kent on any of your flights to Frisco. Brit girl."  
 A quick phone call was enough to elicit the information they sought. "She came in from London all right, 'bout an hour ago. But she didn't catch the flight to Frisco. The business about a sick friend there must have been a decoy, assuming she's her own boss." 
 "If she didn't go to Frisco she must have gone to New York," said one agent to the other. "I mean she's planning on killing lots of people."     
 Immediately they called the New York Police Department.  "She's going to release that virus somewhere in the city.  Where, we haven't a friggin' clue."
 "Why not do it at the airport?" asked the Police Chief, almost angrily. The news of the danger to his city had filled him with horror.
 "Because the guy who's behind all this is specifically targeting the West. If lots of people here get infected and they carry the disease back to their home countries it kind of muddies the waters. Now, you want her description?"
"Fire away."
 The FBI man read it out and the Police Chief scribbled it down. "You got a photograph?"
 "The Brits are faxing one through right now. We'll pass it on to you as soon as it arrives."
 Within minutes, Caroline's details were being circulated to all patrol cars and officers on the street.   
 At his desk, the Police Chief studied the typescript of the message and passed a weary hand across his forehead.  "Subject is white female, blonde hair, blue eyes, age mid- to late twenties, approximately five feet ten inches in height. Speaks with British accent. Answers to name of Caroline Kent.  
She is believed to be wearing a white blouse and dark blue dress." The British police had spoken to one of Caroline's neighbours who had seen her just before she left to go to Heathrow. "If you see her report it to police immediately."
 Jesus Christ, he thought. White female, blonde hair...there were hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of people like that in the Western world. It was a pretty standard physical type.  How the hell were they supposed to... 
 To find her in this labyrinthine metropolis teeming with vast, tightly-packed crowds of people? They couldn't stop every blonde they came across. And she might already be in the city. She might even now be crushing the tiny capsule whose contents once liberated would bring death to perhaps a third of New York's population. 
 He came to a swift decision. And hoped that he wouldn't live to regret it. If he lived at all, he thought morbidly. "Put out a general alert. Not just to the police but to everyone. Radio stations, taxis, the whole damn lot.
 "And especially the taxis." They were the quickest way anyone could get to the centre of the city from JFK. "But for Chrissake don't − read my lips − don't say anything about the virus." Like his British counterparts the police chief knew the dangers of causing mass panic. 
 He summoned three of his best men to his office for a briefing. Their names were Lieutenant Aaron Leibowitz and Sergeants Sam McClusky and Doug Franks. "I'm giving you special charge of this operation," he told them. "Take an unmarked car and patrol the city centre keeping a good look-out for her. You'll be in plainclothes, because if she sees a uniform she may panic and release the virus. She may panic anyway if she finds out about the alert, but there's nothing we can do about that. If anyone radios in saying they've seen her you're to intercept her straight away. And don't hesitate to shoot if you figure it's the only way out."

"'Bout ten minutes till we get there," announced Frank Schulmann, cab no 61234.   
 "Oh, right," smiled the young woman seated behind him in the passenger compartment. "Thanks."
 They fell again into small talk. Schulmann frowned, aware of something strange, distant, beneath her pleasant relaxed manner. Then his radio crackled. "Calling all cabs. Would all drivers please look out for a white female, blonde hair and blue eyes, aged about twenty-seven, approximately five feet ten inches in height. Speaks with British accent. Answers to name of Caroline Kent. Believed to be wearing a dark blue dress with white blouse. If you see her you are to report it to the police immediately, repeat immediately."
 British accent, blonde hair...He found himself turning round to glance at Caroline through the window in the partition, taking in her appearance and clothes, including her dark blue dress with white blouse. A sudden shock surged through him.
 Seeing that there were no other vehicles close behind he slowed the car and pulled into the kerb.  
Caroline stiffened. "Why are we stopping?" she demanded.
 "Didn't you hear the announcement, honey?" he said. "Looks like the cops want a word with you. And being a public-spirited citizen I thought I'd bring it to your attention.  Hope you're not in some kinda trouble."
 Immediately she was fumbling with the door handle.  Schulmann remained in his seat while she clambered out of the taxi, wondering whether he ought not to let her get away and then call the cops, whether she had a weapon of some kind and would get nasty with it if he tried to stop her.  
 She marched round to the driver's side and opened the door. He guessed she was going to pull a gun on him or something and had just made up his mind not to resist when her hand flashed out and dealt him a savage blow to the side of the neck. Instantly everything went blank. 
 Caroline unfastened his seatbelt and yanked him out of the car, tossing him to one side as if he'd been a paper bag. His unconscious body sprawled heavily on the road. A car swerved sharply to avoid it, the driver yelling out an obscenity. The people on the pavements stood and gaped in sheer amazement as Caroline jumped in behind the wheel of the taxi, started the engine and drove away. Heading for the subway entrance at the intersection of 22nd Street with 55th Avenue.

Aaron Leibowitz, driving the patrol car, heard his cellphone ring and snatched it up. It was the station. "Someone's reported an incident in 44th Street a couple of minutes ago. This taxi suddenly stopped and a blonde woman got out. Then she hauled the driver out the car, dumped him in the road like he was a sack of potatoes, got back into the car and drove off. It looks like this is it. It sounds crazy, but..."
"44th Street," Leibowitz mused. "Which direction was she heading?"
"East, towards 22nd." 
"Anything in that area we ought to know about?"
 "Well, there's the subway station..." The man gave a sharp intake of breath. "Oh shit."
"We'll check it out. Where is the subway exactly?"
"Intersection of 22nd and 55th."
 "I know the place." Leibowitz thought fast. "I think we'd better stop all the trains in the city. Just for the next couple of hours, say. Otherwise, the situation could run out of control. But pretend the delay will only be for a few minutes, or she might get suspicious. See what the Chief thinks of the idea."
 Leibowitz swung the wheel, and the car turned westwards towards the intersection of 22nd Street and 55th Avenue.  "What's going on?" McClusky asked.  
 He explained. "For all we know this could be it. She's had every opportunity to release the virus before now, but a subway station would be the best place. The train'll carry the plague all over the city.”
 "There are plenty of other subways she could have done it at," Franks pointed out.
 "But this is maybe the busiest. We're right in the heart of the city here."
 Just then a call came through from the Chief. "I've had them do what you said. But what if it isn't a subway at all?" 
 "She knows someone will have reported the incident with the taxi," Leibowitz said. "She's got no time to lose now.  She'll break it there."
 "Especially when she realises the delay is going to be for much more than a few minutes. She'll think what the hell and do her stuff. If it's another subway, we may not get there in time. All in all we're taking a bit of a gamble."
"Then let's just hope it pays off," Leibowitz grunted.
"Your ass on the line if it doesn't."  The radio went dead.
 "Right, guys," Leibowitz said. "We've got to be real careful here. Somehow we've got to get close enough to grab her before she breaks that ampoule. If she's there. I suggest we split up as soon as we're on the platform."

The taxi pulled up to the kerb a few yards from the subway entrance and Caroline got out. She drew a few odd stares from passers by who wondered what she was doing driving a taxi when she somehow looked as if she ought to be at a business meeting, but only a few. In a country as crazy as this nothing tended to surprise people that much.
 She hurried down the stairs, passing a bum huddled in a blanket by the entrance and stretching out a hand with a beer bottle in it in a drunken appeal for money.  
 A minute later the police car screeched to a halt just outside the entrance. They had seen the taxi parked outside it and recognised it from the description the station had given them. 
 The three officers jumped out and descended the steps to the ticket hall. They could have flashed their ID cards at the staff, but it was vital no-one saw they were police, in case the woman they were looking for saw what was going on and released the millions of deadly spores into the air around her, to be breathed in by the crowds of people clustered on the platform and in the carriages.  
 So they had to buy tickets like everyone else. Losing valuable time.
 What'll she do? thought Leibowitz. She'll wait until the next train is about to arrive. When there would be the maximum number of people gathered on the platform. When no-one would see what she was doing. That also meant she would not see them, he thought. They had a chance.
 He had ordered a couple of cars to the area, telling them to remain on standby a few streets away in case they were needed.
 They hurried through onto the platform and split up.  Standing near the edge, just within the safety barrier, Sam McClusky scanned the crowd, ignoring everyone except Caucasian blondes wearing dark blue dresses and white blouses. A few yards down the platform Leibowitz was doing the same. Doug Franks was positioned near the entrance keeping an eye on all those who passed through it.  
 In the train there would be less room to move about. They must intercept her out here, on the platform.  
 Would she try to do it on the train? It would be just as  crowded, with an equal chance she could take out the capsule unobserved.  
 When would she do it? When would she decide the moment was right? 
 Gradually the platform was filling up. They knew Whiteoaks 123 had been delayed, but also that the delay would not be inordinately long. So as the minutes ticked by the crowd continued to swell; there were by now several blondes in view, and in time a few more appeared.
 It was too late for the photograph. It had by now reached the police station, but the police station was several miles away.
 A dark blue dress and a white blouse. He tried to see what each of the blondes was wearing, but people kept on walking in front of them.
 None of them seemed to have on anything which answered the description, but one was largely hidden by a plump woman with a capacious shopping bag. He began walking around with his hands in his pockets, doing his best to look casual and unconcerned.  
 The crowd was still growing. He felt the mass of bodies starting to press him in. In a minute or so it might be difficult to get to her.  
 Shouldering his way as gently as possible through the crowd, he reached out to grasp the blonde's arm. "Excuse me," he said, "Miss Kent?"  
 She sensed his approach and turned to look at him. The sharpness of her reaction gave her away; and then he saw the dress and blouse.  
 She broke away from McClusky, at the same time thrusting one hand into her pocket. In a flash it came out again and she hurled the box, half open, away from her and into the mass of bodies nearby. It hit a woman, bounced off her and landed on the platform, toppling onto its side. The ampoule had still been more or less inside it, and rolled rather than fell out. 
 Reacting to the commotion, Leibowitz and Franks were moving swiftly towards them. 
 "Get away!" McClusky shouted at the crowd, pointing at the little plastic tube lying on the platform. "Get away from that!" The woman backed away from him rather than from the ampoule, alarmed by his shouting at her. Others nearby did the same, until they collided with the solid core of the crowd and could move no further.
 Caroline was lunging for the ampoule when Leibowitz and Franks jumped on her and seized her by the arms. With a snarl of rage she broke free, ran forward and lifted her foot to stamp on the ampoule. Before it could come down Franks grabbed her and pulled her back.  
 Again she broke away, with a violence that sent a stab of pain along Leibowitz's arm. God, she has the strength of ten men, he thought frenziedly. 
 Franks gabbled furiously into his radio. "Get down here at once! We need some help!" 
 Caroline snatched up the ampoule and flung it away from her.  McClusky dived for it and caught it. He landed on his back with the ampoule clasped in his hand.  
 She leaped at him like a tiger, and he rolled to one side, keeping his grip on the ampoule. She lost her balance and fell sprawling, but in an instant was on her feet again, turning to face him with her body held in a crouch, poised to spring. He scrambled away from her but again she rushed towards him, snatching at the ampoule. They collided with a force which knocked him clean over. As he fell McClusky managed again to keep hold of the ampoule − just.
 Leibowitz grabbed Caroline around the waist and swung her away from McClusky. She kicked and thrashed, crying out from sheer rage. Her face was set in a look of savage determination. Leibowitz realised he couldn't hold her and shouted for assistance. Franks tried to grab her flailing arms so he could snap the cuffs on her; Leibowitz couldn't help him because it would have meant shifting his grip, and she might seize her chance and break it.  
 Her hand struck Franks a sharp blow on the forehead and he reeled back dizzily, stunned.  
Then she tore free again.
 McClusky was clambering shakily to his feet, his fingers clamped tightly around the ampoule. "Get it out of here!"  screamed Leibowitz. "Get it out of here, quick!" Caroline saw McClusky thrust the ampoule into his pocket and run from the platform and up the stairs, the crowd parting to let him by then closing up again, hiding him from her view. Frantically she renewed her struggles. Then a dozen policemen came running onto the platform, in the process blocking her way to the stairs.  
 Her inability to carry out her instructions seemed to puzzle Caroline. Abandoning her attempts to retrieve the ampoule, she slumped back against Leibowitz, her face clouding to leave an expression of blank bemusement. 
 Cautiously Leibowitz stepped up to her, and waved a hand before her eyes. She didn't blink.
"Looks like she's in some sort of shock," he muttered.
"Better get a Medic to take a look at her," grunted Franks.  
 Slowly McClusky climbed the stairs into the open street.  Exhausted, he stood gazing with dull eyes at the crowds who stared curiously back at him, a vast multi-coloured mass of humanity. 
 Through a gap between two office blocks he could see part of the skyline of the city; the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the space where the World Trade Centre had once stood.
 A deep, shuddering sigh of relief escaped him. It was combined with a surge of emotion that left him with a tear in one eye.
This city, he thought, has suffered enough.


FORTY-SIX
Fingers entwined behind his back, Dr Fu Manchu stood a little way behind the technicians seated at their sweeping rows of consoles, his piercing green eyes watching them at their work. Memories were flooding through his mind; memories from a long life, which sometimes blended and became confused with one another. How he had fled from the reaction after the Boxer Uprising, taking refuge in the wilds of Xinjiang and there amassing the band of robbers and vagrants who would form the nucleus of the Si-Fan. How he had stood at the window of the Imperial Hotel in Shanghai listening to the shouts from below proclaiming the Revolution. The constant duels with Nayland Smith, which he had always enjoyed despite the endless succession of defeats, as he sought to control the world leaders of his day and obtain the equipment which would enable him to alter the balance of power in China's favour. How he had watched the Communists take over and ruin everything. How he had come to where he stood now.
 At last he had drawn up, and was putting into action, what he regarded as the foolproof scheme; the final culmination of all his labours.
 When the West was devastated by nuclear war, one half of its population destroyed and most of its infrastructure, its industry, shattered too, China would move in to fill the vacuum. There would be offers of help, of reconstruction.  The Chinese with their far stronger economy would inevitably dominate. Every loan, every offer of aid, would be on its terms. And economic control, as Dr Fu Manchu had always been astute enough to realise, meant political control. China would move troops in to "enforce its interests." It would take all that remained of the West's resources, and at the same time build up its own. In order that the West would never succeed in dominating it the way America was threatening to do it would be completely and utterly subjugated, and afterwards ruled according to Chinese customs and practices. China would be the most powerful nation on Earth, the strongest there had ever been. Its people would spread out from their homeland to colonise the rest of the world. There would be resistance, of course, but that was to be expected. It would be another episode in a remorseless historical process which needed a push if it was to be started on its next phase.
 There would be no-one to resist the annexation of Taiwan. Japan and North Korea could be left alone; with all that the West could offer it, all its vast wealth, technology and natural resources, along with Middle Eastern oil, China would have no need to interest itself in their affairs. If they nonetheless took fright and attacked her, he had a way of crushing them which would take effect before they could find a way to neutralise it.  
 The technicians continued to study the pulsing blips of light on the VDUs which showed the layout of the target area of each girl's country. Each blip indicated the girl's current position, relayed by the tracking device in one of the thousands of nanobytes implanted in her brain. Some were stationary for the time being, others had begun to move.  
 Suddenly a red light flashed before one of the technicians, and he swivelled round in his chair to face Dr Fu Manchu. "Honourable Doctor, there is a problem with our agent in Australia. She has been obstructed in carrying out her task."
 Dr Fu Manchu's tall, thin body stiffened and his brow  creased in a frown. "Keep monitoring the signal. If there is no change within the next few hours, cease transmission."  Minutes passed during which no-one spoke, the only sound in the room being the low hum of power from the consoles. Dr Fu Manchu's eyes remained fixed on them unblinkingly, cold and green and gleaming like emeralds. A slight pursing of his lips was all that betrayed the inner anxiety he was feeling.
 One by one, the signals stopped moving. Then they began to move away from the target zones.
 The chief technician left his place and came over to Dr Fu Manchu. "We must assume the women have been apprehended by the authorities," he told his master. There was no trace of disappointment in his voice; he was merely stating a fact.  "The plan has failed."
 Briefly anger flashed in Dr Fu Manchu's eyes. Then his face relaxed, assuming its usual expression of calm self-control.  He turned and strode to the main console, where he began tapping out a message on a keyboard. 
 "The viral attacks have failed. Rather than lose the plan altogether we must take a chance and proceed with the bombings. Notify the cells."  
 It did not matter now if the call was traced back to him by the CIA, or his own country, and the location of the complex established. He still had one crucial trump card.
 He pressed the "SEND" key and waited. He waited for ten, twenty, thirty minutes. But there was no reply from Li Tan, nothing to inform him that the message had been received and understood. What was happening?  
 Dr Fu Manchu breathed hard. So be it. If the authorities had not discovered the location of the complex, then he and his acolytes would simply remain here and think up some new plan, or some way of resurrecting the old one.  
If they had, then he would produce his trump card.  
 He went up to Dr Krogl, who stood by the wall looking impassive. "You are pleased the plan has failed, are you not?" he said.
 The Austrian blanched visibly, then regained his composure.  "Of course not, honourable Doctor. I am as committed to its success as you are."
 The set of Dr Fu Manchu's lips, and his narrowed eyes, made clear he was not convinced. "Yet you must be relieved the Kent woman is still alive. You were attracted by her Aryan looks, were you not? You had dreams of breeding a whole race of Nordic superhumans from her. To you her death would have been an incalculable tragedy. That is why I did not tell you I intended to use her the way I did, and why you were most displeased when you found out."
 Krogl bowed his head. "It's not for me to question your ways. I will continue to serve you devotedly."
 "Let it continue to be...devotedly." The green eyes blazed brighter, boring deep into the Austrian's very soul. For all the man's protestations of loyalty, Dr Fu Manchu knew Krogl still regarded him as an inferior. Higher in the racial order of things than Jews or blacks, but still below the status of a true Aryan.  
 "Your loyalty will soon be tested," he told the Nazi. "Make sure you are not found wanting." And with that Dr Fu Manchu strode off, to ponder his future in peace and quiet.

Pacing impatiently up and down in his balaclava helmet and tight-fitting black tracksuit, Emilio Cattani glanced once again at his wristwatch. They had been ordered to hold the Beckenbaums for twelve hours in all, and that time was now almost up. 
 Nearby, Dan and Lisa Beckenbaum sat on a moth-eaten sofa covered by his colleagues' pistols. Lisa was angry and frightened, but otherwise completely unharmed. Certainly she didn't look as if she was suffering from a rare debilitating disease.  
 Cattani left it for a few minutes more, then nodded to his associates. "OK. Tie them up and gag them."
 "W-w-what are you going to do to us?" gasped Lisa, white-faced and rigid with terror.
 "You'll be alright," said Cattani disgustedly. He had had strict instructions not to kill the couple, which was something he couldn't understand; he hadn't thought crime was that moral a business nowadays. When he had stressed that he didn't want to leave the slightest possibility that they could give the police some vital clue, the representative of the guy who had hired him to do the job had suggested that it was better to be in prison than dead, which was what he would be if he didn't do what he was told. In the end Cattani had decided to choose the safe option. Nowadays it seemed people could order the Mafia about just as they pleased, he reflected bitterly.
 "I just want you out of it long enough for us to get clean away from here," he told them.  
 Three hours later the local police received an anonymous call which led to their finding and releasing the Beckenbaums. The caller had spoken with a Chinese accent. They got a fix on the booth from which it was made, but all attempts to trace the caller himself proved fruitless.  Within minutes he had blended hopelessly into the general population of San Francisco's Chinatown.

Making sure Sarah Hitchcott could not see him, Slate tucked the ampoule carefully into his pocket. The Hazardous Substances Squad would take care of it as soon as Sarah was out of the way. In the meantime Slate wasn't happy about such a thing being on his person. However despite his nerves he allowed himself a heartfelt sigh of relief, his shoulders slumping.   
 "You made her think she'd done the job," Slate grinned.  "You know Mike, I think you're in the wrong profession.  You'd make a bloody good actor."
"I had to be," muttered Thompson.  
 Well you certainly handled the business a lot better than I did, Slate thought. Perhaps it's you who ought to...  
 Later, he told himself. The self-flagellation can wait until this business is satisfactorily cleared up. And if it is, recriminations won't be necessary.
"You certainly had me fooled," he said with a shudder.
 "But how could you be sure she'd even hear you? She was like a robot, a bloody zombie."
"Think about it. She drove here, didn't she?"
 "People have been known to drive while they're sleepwalking.  One guy did forty miles without having an accident."
 "That was luck," Thompson said. "Something this Yu Chen guy couldn't afford to trust to. It was important she reached the reservoir safely, because putting it in the water supply was the best way of getting it to millions of people. Most of the time you're driving you're doing it automatically, so the hypnosis wouldn't make any difference. But what if someone pulled out suddenly in front of you, for instance? You have to be able to react to that sort of thing, and that means you have to make a decision whether to slow down or change direction. That's something Yu Chen would have taken into account. I gambled that whatever technique he used would have left the rational, thinking part of her brain still functional."
 They glanced to where Sarah Hitchcott was being questioned by the doctor. She still looked dazed and uncomprehending.
 "She seems back to normal," said Slate. "Better keep an eye on her, though, till this business is cleared up."
 They walked over to Sarah, who turned to them expectantly as they approached. "I still don't know what's going on," she complained. "I've been told I've been hypnotised but I don't really understand any of it. Why am I being arrested?"
 Slate made sure nobody except he, Thompson and the doctor could hear any of the conversation. "I expect this'll come as a bit of a shock to you, Miss Hitchcott," he said gently, lowering his voice. "I'm not able to tell you the full story, I'm afraid. But you were kidnapped, and released, for a reason.
 "It was all a very clever ruse," he continued. "You were abducted specifically so that you could be hypnotised and used to poison the reservoir. To kill thousands, maybe millions, of people." 
 Sarah started. Her jaw dropped and she stared at him, rigid and pale-faced, for a whole minute, eyes glazed with shock.
 With a wailing cry she burst into a flood of tears, collapsing helplessly into a medic’s comforting arms. 

The police had gone now, but the crowds were still milling about on 55th Street near the entrance to the subway station, chattering excitedly.
"Who was it? Who'd they catch? Did you see?"
"I saw a white girl being taken off in handcuffs."
"A white chick?"
 "Well, she sure didn't look like one of those al-Qaeda people."
 "Man, that's scary. If it was one of the usual guys then I could understand."
 "There's all sorts of other crazies about. White supremacists, Nazis, ecowarriors...could have been one of those screwball religious cults. I dunno. They're not saying anythin’ about it on the news. I think there's somethin' weird going on here, all right."
 "Thing is, they stopped it," said one man, turning away with a shrug. "That's all I'm bothered about."
 
They had gone up to Leicester early on the Saturday morning, Samira and Ahmed and Yusuf in al-Kursaali's car, the others following in Moaven's. During the journey Samira was silent, withdrawn, preoccupied. She tried to make conversation but wasn't really in the mood. She wondered if they suspected something was on her mind, and what difference it would make to things if they did. 
To the others she seemed to be pointedly avoiding talking to Yusuf.
 They arrived to find al-Kursaali's aunt and uncle and cousins waiting for them. They had been surprised at the sudden proposal of a visit but the importance of hospitality to Muslims made it hard to refuse. They were greeted with the usual warmth and kindness and ushered inside. Soon all three generations were seated in the living room, talking uninhibitedly over glasses of sweet Arabic tea or lemonade.     
 Only in Samira's case was the mood forced. Inside she was constantly on edge, waiting for the right chance to talk to Ramasseh. So far, it hadn't come. It was made more difficult for her because she had to try to seem normal, to look as if she wasn't preoccupied with something, wasn’t on edge. That meant she couldn't be vigilant, couldn't look out for an opportunity, couldn't concentrate on the task of manipulating things so that she and Yusuf were alone. Once she saw him get up and leave the room, making his excuses; she presumed he was going to the toilet. She would have left too, making some excuse of her own, and buttonholed him in the hallway, but at that moment her uncle was talking to her and she couldn't suddenly break off the conversation without him finding it strange, rude or both.  
She continued to wait.  
Suddenly someone's mobile phone rang. It was Ramasseh's.  
"Hello?" he answered.
"Ram? It's Derek."
 "Wait a sec," he told Slate. He turned to his companions.  "Excuse me if you would. It's a personal call."
 They nodded understandingly. Muslims liked to think they shared each other's worries and discussed them openly, keeping no secrets from each other. At the same time they understood and respected an individual's need for privacy.  Samira knew she could not follow him as he stepped out into the garden, because if she were seen breaking proper Islamic convention in such a way it would invite comment. 
 Ramasseh pulled back the sliding door and went out. He found a secluded spot in the shade between a pine tree and a rhododendron bush, and in a low voice spoke into the mobile. "OK, they can't hear us."  
 "Something I think you should know. In the past few hours there've been attempted virus attacks in all sorts of places, including London and New York; we're trying to prevent the truth from getting out in case it causes mass panic. That was what your friends went up to Leicester to avoid. What exactly happened would take too long to explain, but one of the...terrorists tried to throw something into a reservoir just outside London, another had an ampoule full of something they think is anthrax at her home in Notting Hill.
 "It's part of a carefully worked out and co-ordinated strategy. We reckon that once the virus attacks threw everything into confusion they'd have followed up with a suicide bomb campaign. Listen, Ram, I don't want you to repeat what I'm about to say to anyone, OK?"
"OK."
 "We've had a report from the spooks that China was behind the virus business."
"We knew about Li Tan."
 "There's more to it than that. There's someone above Li Tan and it's Yu Chen, the business tycoon." Slate thought it best at this stage not to start talking about Dr Fu Manchu. "He's completely loopy and he's probably acting without the approval of the Chinese government." He had been appraised as to what kind of man Fu Manchu was. "We already knew through MI6 that Yu Chen was planning to use weapons of mass destruction for some purpose; we don't have the full details. But the thing is, if the terrorists knew about the virus attacks then Li Tan must be in cahoots with him. Yu Chen is exploiting him for his own ends.
 "Whatever his scheme is it goes beyond anything the terrorists are planning to do. From all accounts, Yu Chen isn't particularly interested in Islam or any other religion except himself and making China the dominant world power. We're looking at something even more dangerous than al-Qaeda.  It's now vital you find out what you can about the whole operation." It was possible al-Kursaali was a Si-Fan agent, keeping his true allegiance a secret from the rest of the cell. "And in particular what they’re planning to do now the virus attacks have failed. They're now arresting Li Tan and all the cells with whom he's been in contact.” The attempted mass poisonings had broken the CIA’s nerve. “But those guys won't necessarily tell the truth. If we left just al-Kursaali's cell active for the time being...but we must have that further information. And there may be other sleeper cells somewhere, who Li Tan was keeping in reserve.  
 "Now would be an excellent chance for you to find out what clues there might be at al-Kursaali's house. And maybe the only one. There's no danger now the virus business has been stopped. If you could slip away and get back to London before they do, you could search the place. Just make sure you don't leave any trace of what you've been up to. OK?"
"I guess it makes sense."
"Will you need a back-up?"
"No. If I make some kind of excuse they won't get suspicious."  
"OK. But take care all the same."
 Switching off the phone, Ramasseh rejoined al-Kursaali and his friends. "Sorry, folks," he said grimly. "I've got to go. It's my Dad, looks like he's not very well. I've got to be there for him."
 Samira started on hearing this, then quickly changed her expression. Behind her calm and composed exterior her mind began to race. 
"Do you want one of us to take you?" asked Moaven.
 "No, that's OK. I've enough money for the train. Wouldn't mind a lift to the station, though." 
"I'll take you," offered Rachim. 
 Ramasseh shook everyone's hand and said goodbye to them.  Then he and Yunus went out to the car, everyone going with them to see them off. 
 Afterwards the party went back inside, and Samira sat down and thought for a moment. Could Yusuf's sudden departure have some other explanation? He had been informing on the cell, if that was what it was, for some time. What did this newe development mean?  
 Should she warn her brother? If she did he and his friends might go into hiding, and stay underground somewhere until the time came for them to start letting off their bombs. But if she had suspected the police were on to them, and just let them be arrested...well, that didn't seem right somehow.  Ahmed was still family. If she just knew for sure what was going on, her conscience would be clear.  
She had no idea when the police might pounce. 
 A chilling thought suddenly occurred to her. She was dangerous to Ahmed as long as she suspected he was a terrorist. If he knew of her suspicions, and he was capable of murdering Fereydoun, was it possible he might kill her?  
 Whatever happened, she must know what was going on. She might not get another chance. She could always explain her disappearance by pretending she was in love with Yusuf, and needed to see him alone. That would cause much less alarm than would telling the plain truth.
 Seeing no-one was looking at her at that moment, she quietly got up and slipped from the room. All the time making as little noise as possible she crept up to the front door, fumbled with the handle and opened it.  
 She decided against taking the car in case the sound of its engine alerted them. She'd just have to make her way into town, or at any rate to a bus stop, taking care to stay out of their sight in case they came looking for her. She had no idea how long it would be before they realised she was missing.   
 Once she was a fair distance from the house, she broke into a run, ignoring the puzzled stares of passers-by. Minutes later she reached the bus stop for the station. A glance at the timetable told her the next one would be along in about ten minutes.
 Meanwhile, what was Yusuf doing? Presumably he had gone back to London for a meeting with his superiors. Wherever he was bound, he had a head start on her. She needed to move as quickly as possible.  

MI6 HQ, office of the Director-General
The al-Qaeda cell MI5 and the police had been monitoring had been told a major attack on London was about to happen, carried out by another group, and then came the biological attacks, which they knew Fu Manchu was responsible for. And Li Tan, Rachel Savident had pointed out, was a Chinese Muslim. It hadn't occurred to them before because there was no reason for it to, but now it seemed almost certain Li Tan and Fu Manchu were in league. No wonder Sir George Ackroyd was so keen for them to run the operation, instead of arresting al-Kursaali and his friends. 
 "Everyone Li Tan made a call to during the period he was under surveillance has been arrested, where there are grounds for doing so," Sophie Cameron-Davies reported. "A massive quantity of explosives, plus the material for making them, has been found and impounded. This is on a worldwide scale. It looks like we’ve done enough to prevent the intended bombings."
 "Porton Down have analysed the phial the Hitchcott girl tried to empty into the reservoir," said John Downham. "It's full of salmonella, genetically re-engineered to be more virulent and to get through any filtration system and contaminate the water. The idea was that the lid remained on the capsule all the time, to avoid any premature spillage, but the seal keeping it in place was designed to be eroded by the chemicals in the water that they put in to treat it.
 "And the stuff the Kent girl took to New York was a new strain of smallpox. The Australian and the other girl in London were carrying anthrax, re-engineered like the salmonella."
 "You have to admit, it was a very clever scheme," he went on. "The girls' conditioning must have included the exact location and layout of the places they had to go to to release the virus. And every eventuality had been taken into account. It could have caused problems if the signal was triggered when a girl was doing something she couldn't abandon without causing comment. But if someone wants badly enough to do something they will find a way, either through deceit or by just waiting until the right opportunity comes along. Therefore the girls could all be activated at once, so that the poisonings would be more likely to occur within a reasonably short time of one another − and have the most devastating effect.
 "The Canadian girl was sitting down to a meal with her parents when the police found her, but as soon as they tried to take her away there was trouble. They just managed to stop her crushing the ampoule."
"Are they still holding T'Sien Ho?" asked Rachel Savident.
 "They've just let him go," Sophie Cameron-Davies told her. "Now that they understand the situation and he's finished answering all their questions there's no need to keep him in custody."
"So, do we know where the place is exactly?"
 "Yes, Chinese military intelligence have been able to pinpoint it. It's here, in the province of Gansu. A pretty remote spot. Officially it's known as Installation B. One of several all-purpose military bases built during the Mao years, when relations with the Soviet Union weren't too good and war was thought a real possibility. It was abandoned when that danger seemed to be over, until this Fu Manchu character moved in and took it over for his own use."
 "Couldn't the Americans have found out where it was before, by monitoring any calls Fu Manchu made to Li Tan? They must have made contact with each other at some point."
 "I think the place and the dates of any meetings between them were arranged well in advance, probably at the time Fu Manchu first established control over Li Tan. That way they didn’t have to make any calls which might be intercepted by an intelligence agency. They had as little contact with each other as possible, and what contact they did have was in person rather than over a phone."
 "Presumably the Chinese will now move on the place and arrest whoever's there?"
 "They're on their way to the complex as we speak. But we can't be sure Fu Manchu doesn't have other hideouts. His little project, whatever it is, could still be ticking away like a time bomb."
 "Where is Fu Manchu right now, does anyone know?" asked Downham.
 "He's disappeared. There's no way of getting a lead on him because the whole of his white slave network has been wound up." It had dealt the Far Eastern branch of the industry a massive blow. "A lot of people are dead or have been betrayed to the police and are too terrified to speak because they're afraid Fu Manchu will get to them somehow and punish them.  We can't find the chap in Shanghai, Dai Sang, but I think he's probably just gone to ground or is with Fu Manchu. Seems to have been a genuine Si Fan loyalist rather than just a crook."
 "But if all those other people have been abandoned it means Fu Manchu has no further need of them," Downham said. "He got what he wanted out of the business, or thought he had."
"What are the Americans going to do?" Rachel Savident asked. 
 "Wait to see if the Chinese can't clear it up first.  Diplomatically that would be the wisest thing to do."
 As the meeting broke up, Rachel turned to Sophie Cameron-Davies with her hands clasped solicitously before her and an earnest look on her face. "I'd like to take a little trip to America if that's OK, ma'am. There's a matter I think we should attend to there."

The technician saw the twin blips of light suddenly appear on his radar screen, travelling slowly towards the complex. He switched on the long-range scanner, on whose screen appeared a couple of helicopters; military helicopters, bearing the red star of the People's Republic. They seemed to carry no armament, and must be for observation purposes. The implications were serious enough.
 The helicopters reached the complex half an hour later. They circled above it a couple of times, their high-resolution cameras capturing all the salient details, then banked and flew away.  

"Where's Samira?"
The tone of Moaven's voice alarmed the others.  
"What do you mean, where's Samira?" demanded al-Kursaali.
 They suddenly realised she hadn't spoken, or in any other way made her presence felt, for some time. Everyone glanced at each other worriedly.
"Did she have an appointment somewhere?" asked Moaven.
"I don't think so," muttered al-Kursaali.
 If she'd gone to the toilet, she was taking an inordinately long time over the business. They went and knocked on the door several times, but received no answer.  
 "She doesn't seem to be anywhere in the house," reported Sami a few minutes later. They searched the garden but found no trace of her there either.
 "What's happened to her?" They stared at one another in puzzlement.  
 "Unless she's just vanished into thin air, she must have wandered off for some reason," said Sami.
"But why? Why would she do that?"
 al-Kursaali's aunt and uncle were clearly concerned. But he and his friends felt a different kind of anxiety. Yusuf had had an urgent call as a result of which he had to go. That on its own might not have meant anything. But shortly afterwards, Samira had left the house without telling anyone.  It could just be a coincidence, but somehow it seemed rather an odd one.
 At this late stage in their plans al-Kursaali did not want things going wrong. And any odd incident that occurred might mean they had. He couldn't afford to take chances, and his inner tension and edginess as the climax of their plans approached inclined him towards suspicion.
 "We'll go out and look for her," al-Kursaali told his relatives. "You all stay here. Don't worry, we'll sort it out." 
He turned to his friends. "Let's go."
 They followed him out to the car. "What do you think this means?" Moaven asked.  
 "I thought she seemed a bit strange some of the time. Like she had something on her mind. And often I caught her looking at Yusuf in a funny way; not just when we were in the house, but in the car going down. I think the two of them are up to something together."
 "You mean she fancies him? But if she wanted to see him secretly, why would she go so far as this? Why would she just run off without telling anyone, leaving us all worried?  She's not the kind of girl who'd do that." Samira loved her family too much. "She wouldn't need to hide her feelings, she's always been honest about things like that. She'd share it with us, I'm sure."
"So what does it mean?" Feroz asked.
 al-Kursaali's lips tightened grimly, and a very disturbing look came into his eyes. "I don't know what it means. But I think we ought to find out."


FORTY-SEVEN
As he approached the door of 103 Marlborough Avenue Ramasseh found himself glancing anxiously from side to side. God, his nerves were like a mass of steel wool.
He wondered how long he had.  
 It had been arranged that at the first sign of trouble he'd call for back-up. That didn't soothe his nerves.  
 Seeing he was unobserved, he opened the door with the lock picker MI5 had given him, making sure his body screened it from view so there was no reason for anyone to suppose he wasn't using an ordinary key. He had already selected the pick he would need.  
He went inside.
 Now, he thought, if al-Kursaali wanted to hide something where no-one, no-one at all, could see it where would he put it? It would have to be somewhere very private.
 He went upstairs to the bedroom. There he opened the cupboard and looked inside; nothing there, he concluded after a brief search. He moved to the chest of drawers and pulled out each one, sifting carefully through the contents.  Nothing there either. Under the bed?  
 He already knew, of course, what was concealed beneath the floorboards in al-Kursaali's bedroom. A jumble of electrical, and electronic, components; wires, batteries, circuit boards and various other items. A satellite phone. Sausage-shaped rolls of colourless plastic explosive. A couple of grenades. And a selection of handguns, among them the Uzi machine pistol that must have killed Fereydoun Khambatti. Like the grenades, they were there in case the terrorists ever had to shoot it out.  
 What he really wanted was something al-Kursaali had written down, and would be fairly easily accessible should he need to refer to it. But there was nothing. For the sake of security, al-Kursaali had made sure he knew as little as possible; and because it wasn't very much he had been able to keep it all inside his head, which was the safest place for it.  
 He doubted if it was lying about downstairs. All the same, he decided to search there.
 He looked everywhere, going through bureaus, drawers, bookshelves. He found a notepad and a few scraps of paper and glanced through them, but found nothing that gave any clue to the cell's plans; nothing he didn't already know. Or that al-Kursaali had taken the risk of writing down.
Slate had taken a chance. And he had been wrong.
 Ramasseh stiffened suddenly, perspiration breaking out on his forehead, as he heard the front door open.  
 He was reaching for his radio when he heard a woman's voice call out hesitantly, "Yusuf?"
It was Samira.  
 She'd thought she might find him here. Which had disturbing implications.
 He hesitated for a moment before answering her. "Samira?  Are you alone?"
"Er...yes." He heard her come down the hallway.
 He pocketed the radio. Disconcerting as the situation might be, Samira wasn't an enemy.
 She stepped into the living room. He could feel the tension emanating from her. "What are you doing here?" she demanded.  "Why are you going through my brother's things?"
 Briefly he considered trying to bluff it out, then told himself it would be futile. "All right. I'll give it to you straight, Samira, I'm an undercover police officer. Your brother and his friends are part of a terrorist network which is planning a series of atrocities in the West. I was sent to find out exactly what they had in mind."
 Her shoulders slumped in dismay. With a groan of pain she swayed and fell against the wall, eyes closed.
 "I'm very sorry," he whispered, moving closer to her. "I can guess what a shock it must be to you."
 She raised her head. "I thought you were with the police," she said softly. "You let slip one or two interesting things."
"I know," he said ruefully.
 "So I followed that guy who came to see you. I saw him go into the police station and I knew."
 "But you didn't tell your brother." He felt a warm surge of affection for her. "Did you?"
 "I wanted to find out more first. But I haven't had the chance until now. I came here because I thought you might have gone looking for clues."
 She eyed him searchingly. "My brother...a terrorist. Are you sure?"
 "Something tells me you are. When he started being so remote from you you must have begun to wonder."
 He told her all he had found upstairs. "And he killed your fiancee. He told me as much himself. He killed Fereydoun because he was going to warn the police."
 "No," she gasped, her voice barely intelligible. "No. I can't...I can't believe it. "
"You didn't think he'd go that far?"
 "I...I wasn't sure. I...." Suddenly her face crumpled and he broke down. Ramasseh stood by helplessly. He wanted to give her a hug but feared it might be seen in her culture as too intimate. In the end he contented himself with resting a hand lightly on her arm, keeping it there while the surge of emotion exhausted itself and her composure gradually returned. 
 "Did you suspect I knew?" she asked him, her voice flat and dull.
 "I was thinking about the implications. Either you'd have to be in on it, and I didn't want to believe that, or...well, I guess I thought I might be able to recruit you. Use you against them. But I couldn't rely on you to go along with it. I didn't know you well enough then."
 He sighed. "Look, we can't stand around arguing about it forever. I've got to let my colleagues know about this." 
 "Let me speak to Ahmed," pleaded Samira. "Let me try and talk him out of it."
 "You know I can't accept that, Samira. I have to warn the police. Things have gone too far." He very nearly told her about the Chinese angle, but didn't because at the moment it was classified information.  
"Please don't do it," she begged.
"You can't stop me."  
 "Let me talk to them. If it doesn't work, then your friends can arrest them."
 "How will I know you've succeeded? How can we trust people like them? And if it doesn't work they'll kill you."
"Ahmed wouldn't," she said.  
 Ramasseh picked up on the uncertainty in her voice. "I don't think you're quite sure about that, Samira. They're fanatics, people to whom family ties mean nothing if they stand in the way of the cause.
 "I'm sorry you're going to get hurt by all this. But there's far too much at stake." 
"Give Ahmed a chance. I'm sure he'd listen to me."
 "He'd listen to you and then he'd kill you. Or he'd go underground and we might not be able to find him until one day he lets off a bomb and kills lots of innocent people.  And himself at the same time, probably.  Do you want that? Do you want to lose him?"
 She had already turned that consideration over in her mind a hundred times. "No," she said quietly, the tears once again glistening in her eyes.
"And if he did kill you, well I...I wouldn't like that."
 Samira looked at him sharply. She was about to say something when she saw Yusuf tense, alarm in his face. She turned round to see what the matter was and saw the figures which had appeared in the doorway behind them.
 Intent on their argument, neither of them had heard al-Kursaali and the others enter the house. 
 They had not wanted to go back to London, with the first attack about to begin. But Samira and Yusuf's disappearance might represent a security risk, one that could threaten the safety of their entire operation. It had to be investigated.
 They