Authors: Will Jordan
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Military, #Spies & Politics, #Espionage, #Contemporary Fiction, #Crime Fiction, #Thrillers
Former soldier and elite CIA operative Ryan Drake is heading out for dinner when he witnesses a sniper attack on the freeway.
A motorcade full of Russian Federal Security Force members – in Washington DC for a conference on greater co-operation with their US counterparts – has been ambushed. Many have been killed, and the CIA suspect the leader of the strike team is Anya – the woman Drake once risked everything for.
Drake cannot believe her capable of such an atrocity but with the Russians baying for blood Drake and his depleted team head for Siberia to discover the truth.
And here he is forced to confront the terrifying possibility that Anya’s betrayal could be greater and more deadly than he could ever have imagined …
While studying for a degree in IT, Will Jordan worked a number of part-time jobs, one of which was as an extra in television and feature films. Cast as a Second World War soldier, he was put through military bootcamp and taught to handle and fire weapons in preparation for the role. The experience piqued his interest in military history, and encouraged him to learn more about conflicts past and present. Having always enjoyed writing, he used this research as the basis for his first thriller,
, supplementing it with visits to weapon ranges in America and Eastern Europe to gain first-hand knowledge of modern weaponry. He lives in Fife with his wife and two sons.
is the third novel in his Ryan Drake series.
For Susan; who showed me what matters
was an important story to tell. More than that, it was a story I wanted to tell right. But dealing as it does with sensitive subject matter, I knew it was never going to be an easy book to finish. The fact that it appears before you now is due in no small part of the dedicated and talented people I’ve been lucky enough to work with.
As always, my thanks go to my editor Georgina Hawtrey-Woore for her help and advice in shaping this book, and to my agent Diane Banks for being my guide in the weird and wonderful world of publishing. I’d also like to acknowledge the tireless work of my copy editor Mary Chamberlain, who somehow managed to keep the complex events of this series in some kind of order!
Lastly my thanks go to my friend Irene Houle, who I was finally able to meet in person last summer. Her thoughtful advice and kind words of encouragement on my early writing forays helped me realise how much I wanted to be an author, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
Beslan School Number One, 3 September 2004
Numbed by fear and exhaustion, Natasha glanced up from the old scarred wooden floorboards that had been her sole point of focus for the past several hours.
Her captor was standing about 10 yards away, puffing absently on a cigarette, the bulky frame of an assault rifle cradled in his arms as he took another deep draw. His features were crude and blunt, characteristic of the men in this part of the country; all pockmarked skin and stubbly beard. His eyes, grey and soulless, were fixed dead ahead, seeing nothing.
What was going on behind those expressionless eyes?
A muted cough nearby drew her attention back to her immediate surroundings. More than 500 men, women and children of all ages were packed into the school exercise hall, crowded in so close that there was scarcely enough space even to sit down. The heat was stifling. The smell of sweat, fear and stale urine was pervasive.
They had been held for two days and nights without rest or relief, forbidden to move, forbidden even to talk. When they had first been herded in here, their passage marked by shouting and gunshots, many of the children had been near hysteria with panic. Some had pleaded in vain to be allowed to leave, as if this were a sports day that they could somehow be excused from. Others, too young to understand what was going on, had sought the only reassurance they knew and clustered around their teachers like sheep.
But two days and nights of constant fear, lack of sleep and threats of violence had worn the jagged edges of their nerves down until all Natasha could hear was the occasional cough, groan and strangled sob. These were a group of people defeated in body and spirit, grimly waiting for what was to come.
Most of them had their eyes turned downwards, trying not to be noticed, trying not to do anything that would single them out. They had all learned the value of anonymity. On the first day their captors had executed one man simply for failing to kneel quickly enough, and another for speaking in the local Ossetian language instead of Russian.
On the second day they had rounded up twenty of the fittest, most capable-looking men and taken them upstairs to the second floor. Moments later, a thundering boom had rolled through the corridors, followed by the chatter of automatic gunfire. None of the men had come back.
Natasha’s empty stomach growled, the muscles in her abdomen cramping painfully. She hadn’t eaten a thing since this had all begun; a fact that her body was reminding her of with increasing urgency. A slender girl of twelve years, she had had little enough meat on her bones to begin with, but now she was starting to feel weak and light-headed as malnutrition took hold.
She licked her dry lips, trying to silence thoughts of cool, refreshing water. How many times had she pushed her glass of water aside at the dinner table, pestering her father for fruit juice or a sugary soft drink? She would have killed for that glass now.
Her thoughts were interrupted as shouts echoed from the corridor outside the gym hall, making her and the rest of the captives jump in fright. But despite the sudden pounding of her heart, Natasha strained to listen, trying to discern the cause of the commotion. Despite the obvious anger, they didn’t seem to be arguing amongst themselves. It was more as though they were yelling for the sake of it, venting their frustration and trying to rally their flagging resolve.
They were speaking in Chechen. She couldn’t understand what was being said, but it didn’t matter. Even she could sense the change in them.
Some, like the smoking man nearby, were older, calmer and in control of their emotions. But most were young, filled with fire and bravado. As the uneasy stand-off dragged on without any end in sight, they were growing more frustrated and aggressive. Things were not playing out as they had expected. Something was wrong.
‘It’s going to happen soon,’ Natasha whispered.
‘What are you talking about?’ It was Yelena, the friend she’d known for so long she couldn’t remember a time without her. She was a plump sort of girl – not fat as such, but rounded and soft in body, the kind who would blossom into a voluptuous beauty in her teenage years before growing big and matronly as her youth faded.
The girl, her dark hair hanging limp and damp around her face, didn’t look up from the floor, but Natasha could see her eyes were red from crying.
Natasha leaned in closer and nodded towards the gunman who had discarded his cigarette and was now pacing back and forth in front of the door, his broad shoulders hunched with tension. ‘They’re getting more worked up all the time. They’re going to do something soon.’
‘I don’t know.’ She swallowed even though her throat was dry and sore. ‘Maybe kill us all.’
‘They can’t! The soldiers outside will stop them.’ It was a weak protest, delivered without conviction.
Cut off and isolated as they were, neither could tell what was happening outside. Certainly they had heard the rumble of big vehicle engines, the beating of helicopter blades and the occasional shouted exchange with the gunmen, but nothing more. The entire Russian army could be outside, but it didn’t make the slightest difference to them.
‘They didn’t stop all those men being killed yesterday,’ Natasha reasoned. ‘Why would it be any different today?’
‘Maybe they’ll surrender? They can’t want to die here.’
Even Natasha sensed the flawed logic in her argument. ‘Or maybe they’re like the men who flew planes into those buildings in America. Maybe they don’t care about dying.’
Yelena sniffed and shrugged, as if it made no difference to her. ‘So what? What can we do about it?’
That was the question. Natasha wasn’t a soldier. But like all living things, the overwhelming, primal instinct in her young mind was to survive.
‘Be ready to move,’ she said, because wasn’t that what people said at times like this? She hoped she sounded more confident than she felt. ‘When it happens, stay by me.’
Seeing the growing defiance and desperation in her friend, Yelena’s eyes opened wider. ‘You’re going to get us killed!’ she hissed.
The girl raised her chin, a tiny flame of anger kindling within her.
‘Better than letting these bastards kill us,’ she said through gritted teeth. She turned her eyes on her friend again. ‘Yelena, look at me.
Look at me
.’ With great reluctance, her friend’s eyes crept up from the floor to meet her own. ‘I can get us out of here, but only if you trust me. Do you trust me?’
Yelena’s eyes shone with tears, but she nodded all the same. ‘Yes.’
Natasha reached out and clasped her hand. ‘We’ll get out of this. I promise.’
No sooner had they spoken than a fresh round of shouting began in the corridor outside. But this was different from before. The men weren’t just yelling to fire themselves up; they were arguing amongst themselves, their aggression growing in intensity.
And then all of a sudden there were two more gunmen in the gym, both of them young, gaunt and wild-eyed like horses caught in a stampede. They were brandishing their assault rifles like they intended to use them, and sensing this, the hostages tried in vain to shrink away. It was useless. They were hemmed in by the sheer mass of bodies.