The rain started to hammer down as the Mercedes car pulled away from the log cabin and on to the dirt road that ran through the forest. Inside the car, Joanna Schiller was sobbing into her hands. Beside her, driving the car was the police officer, Hoffman. Behind them, strapped safely in was Joanna’s infant son, Manny. As the car accelerated, a bolt of lightning slithered through the trees and struck the ground just yards from the car, forcing Hoffman to lift his foot off the throttle. The sound and suddenness of the storm startled him. He slowed a little, apprehension clouding his features. A gust of wind rocked the car. Joanna lifted her head.
‘Stop the car!’
Hoffman glanced at her.
‘Stop the car,’ she repeated and reached for the door handle.
Hoffman tried to hold her back, but she brushed of his ineffectual attempt and opened the door. He braked sharply as she tumbled on to the forest road.
‘I’m going back,’ she shouted as she scrambled to her feet. ‘I can’t do this.’
‘Frau Schiller’. His hand clutched at nothing. A huge gust of wind rocked the car again, and the rain thrashed at the windscreen. Joanna was no longer there. He turned his head and saw her running back towards the log cabin, disappearing into the storm.
Inside the cabin, Conor Lenihan lay mortally wounded. A trickle of blood stained his shoulder and neck. Another was evident around his groin. The blood was already drying. There was no heartbeat, no breath. Suddenly the door swung open violently as a blast of wind struck it. The force of the wind lifted Conor’s shoulder a few centimetres. His weight overcame the dying gust and his body settled lifelessly again. The short impact made his heart pulse once.
Another gust filled the cabin and lifted the pressure inside considerably. Then it dropped and was sucked out by the storm outside. The increase in pressure meant that Conor’s lungs filled with air, and his heart pulsed involuntarily again.
Joanna stumbled as the wind and rain pushed and pulled at her, but she didn’t stop running. All she could think of was what she had done to Conor and was desperate to get to him, hoping that in some way she could undo what she and Hoffman had set in motion.
She cleared the three steps leading up to the cabin porch in one jump and almost fell in through the open door. The awfulness of what she had done, what she had allowed to happen, came flooding into her mind. The brutal truth of what Hoffman had led her and Conor into was now flooding back into her consciousness. She screamed and put her hand over her mouth as she caught sight of his body.
Without thinking, she threw herself on to the floor and crawled up to him. He was still. She knew he was dead. She touched his face with her fingers, drawing them slowly over the chiselled features she had grown fond of, and blinked away the tears. A humourless smile tugged at the corners of her mouth as she thought about the way they had been brought together. She had hated him and then she had loved him. She had wanted him dead, but he found her baby son and saved his life. Now she had her way.
‘Oh, Conor,’ she cried. ‘Why?’ She put her hands on to his chest. ‘Why Conor?’ she sobbed. As her tears fell so anger and frustration began to build inside her. She started pummelling his chest, her fists closed. ‘Why, Conor? You bastard. Why?’
She stopped and leaned back on her heels. Her tears blurred her vision and gave her a distorted view of his body. She knew she couldn’t leave him there, alone like that; she had to do something.
And then she started to panic again — how could she help him? She needed to call an ambulance but had no phone. She thought of Hoffman, but dared not go back to find him.
Conor! He would have one. She slid her hands over his pockets and found his mobile phone. She fumbled as she dragged it out and dropped it on the floor. She swore and felt emotion getting the better of her. She knew Conor would never have let that affect him, even in times of severe danger. She scooped the phone up and dialled 112. Within seconds she was through to an operator and screaming incomprehensibly at the poor woman.
The operator’s voice was calm, reassuring, helping Joanna to calm down until the message got through. She cut the call and sagged back on her knees. She looked down at Conor. His chest wasn’t moving, but she couldn’t bring herself to believe he was dead. She bent forward and kissed him on the forehead.
‘Please live, Conor. Please live.’
Joanna knew the consequences of being found with his body. She offered up a short prayer and got up from the floor. One last look was all she did before running away from the cabin and back along the track to find Hoffman.
Conor came to, opened his eyes and saw very little in the subdued lighting. He moved his head and looked to his left. He could see a heart monitoring screen and was aware of a low hum in the room. He looked the other way, but saw very little. He closed his eyes and began to mentally examine every part of his body, flexing his arms and legs, but achieving practically no movement. He felt numb but was aware of discomfort in his chest. He thought he should be in pain, but could feel nothing.
He closed his eyes and tried to recall what had happened and why he was in a hospital room. His memory of events was vague and distorted. He saw a woman’s face, a baby, someone pointing a gun at him. He stopped trying and concentrated his mind on his present circumstances: how and why he was here.
He remained like that for several minutes, achieving nothing. The sound of a door opening pricked at his ears. He opened his eyes. A uniformed nurse walked into the room and changed the saline drip. She glanced down at him, but said nothing. She touched him briefly on the face and he could feel the coldness in her fingertips. Then she was gone, and Conor drifted off to sleep again.
He woke an hour later, but this time he could feel pain. Each breath he took hurt. He kept his eyes shut and concentrated his mind on the areas of pain; most of which were on one side of his rib cage. He felt down at another pain in his groin. His movement was slow, and as he touched the wound, the pain intensified. He pulled his hand away and brushed against the catheter that had been inserted in his penis.
Conor knew he was in deep trouble, and when he was like that, his training kicked in and he began to assess his chances of survival. He was disabled physically, something which could be temporary. But mentally he was alert, and that was where he would begin. He could do nothing until his physical strength returned, but he could plan and prepare for whatever came up.
A door opened. Conor opened his eyes a little. He saw two people: one was wearing a white coat and had a stethoscope draped around his neck. The other was smartly dressed, but without a jacket. He had what looked like a security tag clipped to his breast pocket. The one wearing the white coat, who Conor presumed was a doctor, came to the side of the bed. He laid a hand gently on Conor’s chest.
‘Are you awake yet?’ he asked in German.
Conor said nothing.
The doctor looked at the heart monitor, then at the saline drip. ‘He’ll probably need more morphine.’
‘How bad is he?’
The doctor took his hand away. ‘He should be dead. He was just about there when they brought him in.’
‘What injuries does he have?’
The doctor breathed in deeply; it was almost like a sigh. ‘He has two broken ribs and massive bruising around the rib cage; a bruised heart; a deep wound over the collar bone and one in his groin’ He turned briefly and looked at the other man. ‘He has no right to be alive.’
‘So what do you think saved him, his fitness? His strength?’
The doctor laughed softly. ‘No, it was the bullet proof vest he was wearing when he was shot.’
Conor resisted the overwhelming urge to sit up. The statement came as a shock because he still had no recall of what had happened. Why a bullet proof vest? His training kicked in again, and he chose not to dwell on the reason why; it could only frustrate him. No, better to concentrate on what he knew, and that was the pain he felt and now how badly he had been injured.
‘Have the police been informed?’
‘Of course, but I wouldn’t let them interview him; he’s too ill.’
Conor visualised the two men holding this conversation by his bedside. One would probably be a consultant, he reasoned, while the other probably specialised in trauma injuries and had been asked for advice.
‘Heart rate looks reasonable. Blood pressure a little low, but otherwise he is doing reasonably well.’
‘The police want an officer on guard outside the room.’
‘Oh yes, couldn’t see why not; they would have made things awkward if I refused.’
‘Do they know who he is?’
There was a slight pause before the response came. ‘No. They wanted to take his fingerprints and run them through the police data base. I told them no, not until I believe he’s well enough.’
Conor felt the bedclothes move as the doctor examined him, moving his hands very carefully. He tried desperately not to show any reaction to the pain he felt as pressure was applied to those areas of his body where most of the damage had been inflicted. The examination lasted little more than a minute.
The bedclothes were pulled up to Conor’s chin.
‘Tough bastard, that’s for sure. Hopefully we’ll know more in a few days.’
Conor listened as the men left the room. He thought about the time span: a few days. It wasn’t long, but it was all he had to figure out how he was going to get out of the hospital and find out who was responsible for shooting him.
The three days passed with agonising slowness as Conor lay there defying the attempts from the nursing staff to coax something out of him. He listened as they talked while changing the dressings on his wounds and generally milled around his bed. He kept his eyes closed all the time there was somebody there, opening them only when it was safe to do.
And it was during those moments he was able to look around the room, for something that he could use: something that would help when he was ready to bust out. He also used the visits of the nursing staff to figure out a time schedule, and to formulate an idea that had been taking root for some time.
Above him, Conor could see the ceiling was suspended. It was made up of a series of square tiles supported in an aluminium framework commonly found in shops and offices all over the world. He wanted to see what was above those tiles: what roof space there was.
His opportunity came after a week of lying there pretending he was still almost comatose. It was about two o’clock in the morning after the night nurse had finished checking him. As she closed the door behind her, Conor eased himself up into a sitting position. He pushed down with his arms to assess his strength and the ability to withstand the pain he felt around his rib cage.
Satisfied he could cope; he removed the catheter, then closed the small tap on the cannula in his hand and removed the tube, which he placed vertically over the saline drip bag. Very carefully he levered himself up on to his knees facing the wall behind the top frame of the bed. He used this for support as he stood up and reached for the edge of the ceiling tile immediately above him. He pushed with his fingers and lifted the tile. Then he closed his fingertips around the aluminium edged frame and pulled gently. Feeling some support there, he put a foot on to the top frame of the bed and pushed up.
The pain in his chest as he pushed was almost enough to make him faint. He paused and took long, slow breaths until he felt ready. Then he levered himself upright so that his head was in the ceiling void. Sweat was now beginning to form on his forehead and in his eyes, making them sting. He blinked rapidly to clear them before turning his head to search round the roof space.
Because it was the middle of the night, there was little to be seen, but Conor was undaunted and he allowed time for his vison to settle so that he would get a better chance at seeing if there was any point to his unusual escapade.
What he did see gave him some cheer: there was a small ledge just inches away from him. He put his hand on it and guessed that it was about six inches wide. The surface was rough, which meant it would hold him if he could get a purchase on it. And that was all he needed to know.
He lowered himself carefully back on to the bed, letting the ceiling tile settle back in its place. Before putting the catheter back in, he pissed into the bottle, reinserted the catheter, plugged the saline drip back into the cannula and lay back on to his pillow. The pain from his exertions began telling on him, but he soaked it up, enjoying the comfort of a small victory. He now knew what he would have to do for his audacious plan to work. And with a hint of a smile on his face, he drifted off into a peaceful, untroubled sleep.
Conor kept up the pretence until he was able to stand and allowed to go to the bathroom. He knew that he could be transferred at any time now that he was showing signs of recovery, either to another ward or another hospital, so he chose that night, after the nurse had made a brief visit, to go.
He removed the top cover from his bed and clambered up into the ceiling void. Once he had replaced the ceiling tile, he was able to spread the folded bed cover over the aluminium supports. Then he gripped the wire ties supporting the framework and eased himself into a prone position so that his weight was supported by the narrow ledge and the ceiling frame. He had a bottle of water with him — one that had been by his bedside. He had taken the precaution of visiting the bathroom and emptying his bladder; now all he could do was wait. And hope.
Conor had drifted off when he heard the commotion. The nursing staff was suddenly aware that he was missing, and voices were being raised. Conor’s knowledge of German was limited, but he could tell by the anxiety in the voices below that they believed he had absconded. He listened at the protests from the police officer on duty that he had not fallen asleep, and had no idea where the patient was.
As Conor listened, he began sliding away from the ledge. He gripped the support wires firmly, but could not get a decent purchase because they were so thin. He knew that one sudden movement would give him away, so he reached up to the anchor points a few inches above him and took hold there. This increased the pressure on his already painful torso, and he could feel the pain increasing. He knew it wouldn’t be too long before he slipped and brought the flimsy ceiling crashing down on to the bed.
Very carefully, he lifted the edge of a tile and peered through the gap. The room was empty. He knew he would have to get out of his hiding place at that moment. Taking chances was a big part of Conor’s life, and now was no exception. He lifted the tile clear, lowered himself down on to the head of the bed frame, pulled the cover down from the void and replaced the ceiling tile. He then rolled off the bed, slipped the cover around his body, looping one part over his head, and stepped boldly out into the corridor. The police officer was no longer there. Conor walked away, leaving the building chaos behind him.
Two years later.
Conor watched people coming and going as he waited for the man he was escorting round the sprawling city of London. He was parked in a private area beneath the iconic Shard, sitting comfortably in the black Mercedes. It was moments like this that gave him time to reflect, to consider all his options and to appreciate how lucky he was to still be alive. When he escaped from the hospital, he still had little recall of why he was there, but over a period of time, and more deprivation, he pieced together the reasons why.
He knew now why he had been wearing a bullet proof vest: it was because of his training and obeying the mantra to trust nobody. Joanna’s invitation to a secluded location to enjoy some time together could have been a honey trap. It was why he had worn the vest. It had saved his life, although he didn’t know to what degree because he was unaware that Joanna ha called the ambulance.
He thought of the names involved in the kidnap of Joanna’s baby, little Manny. Names like Schiller, Hoffman, Breggie de Kok. Breggie was dead; it was Conor who shot her. Hoffman, the German police officer who pursued him. Joanna’s father-in-law, Manfred Schiller, who was responsible for the covenant. The names had come back to him a piece at a time until his memory was fully restored.
Conor didn’t want revenge; he knew the name of the game: one he had played with devastating consequences. A kind of unwritten law underscored the rules of assassination, contracted killings and terrorism; you understood what would happen if your adversary turned the tables on you. So revenge was out of the question.
When Conor found himself standing on the pavement outside the hospital wrapped in little more than a bedsheet, he had already considered his very limited options. He put as much distance between him and the hospital and went foraging for food and clothing. It hadn’t taken him long to find a couple of homeless men bundled together in a shop doorway. Fairly soon he was in possession of the bare minimum of clothing, but still kept the bedsheet for sleeping rough.
Escape and evasion were the two words that nestled in his mind as he found ways and means to survive with nothing. He had been well drilled in the technique during his service with the SAS, and it was this that got him back to England using the refugee routes that were beginning to appear as tensions built up in Sadam Hussein’s Iraq and people were escaping before the Americans invaded.
He made contact with one of his IRA mates, now retired since the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, and secured a passport so he could re-establish himself back into society. Eventually he found work with a security company, which was how he came to be escorting VIPs who needed some kind of protection when away from their own, secure environment.
The phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and flipped the cover open.
‘Your client will be down in five minutes.’
He snapped the phone shut and drove to the front of the Shard, arriving as his client appeared. He knew there would be nothing else for the remainder of the day; once he had his client safely back in the hotel, he was free for the rest of the evening.
The beer was welcome. He was in Claridge’s hotel bar with a lager in front of him. His client was no longer his responsibility and in the morning he would pick up the £1000 tip his client had left with his employer. Life seemed pretty good from Conor’s point of view. From time to time he would be on an overseas assignment; sometimes risky; sometimes quite the opposite. Here in England it was usually escorting and generally wet nursing the client. He was aware that he could lose the skills that were the main reason for his employment, so he kept himself fit by working out every day. He had no immediate plans; his time was his own for a while. He thought he might stay up the West End and take in a movie. Tomorrow he would call in at the office and then probably catch a flight to Abu Dhabi or maybe the Caribbean; it was that easy for him.
He drained the lager and walked out into the foyer. He nodded to the concierge who he knew well, and was about to head for the main entrance when the sound of the lift doors opening caught his attention. There was no reason for Conor to turn and look — no reason at all. And if he had resisted the urge and walked straight out of the hotel, his life would never have changed.
Stepping out of the lift with someone beside her was Joanna Schiller.
He should have walked straight out of the hotel, but he couldn’t. This was the woman he had fallen in love with, the woman who had led him into the honey trap. This was the woman with whom he had brought down the rising nationalist party in Germany, the woman whose son he had kidnapped and then risked his life to bring him back, the woman who had skilfully waged cyber warfare on her father-in-law’s colossal global empire and prevented it falling into the hands of a Jewish hegemony.
He should have left, but he didn’t.
Joanna paused as the lift doors closed quietly behind her. She glanced at the man with her and smiled briefly. He took her arm and together they walked through the foyer, right up to Conor who was standing there, stock still, his eyes fixed firmly of Joanna.
A frown crossed the man’s face when he realised that the stranger was not going to move out of the way. He was about to say something but stopped when he heard Joanna gasp.
‘I ……’ The words wouldn’t come. She could feel her heart beginning to thump beneath her ribs. She wanted to blurt out an explanation, an apology, to give the reason why it had happened. But the words wouldn’t come.
She found it difficult to move her head: to nod or even shake it. She stared at him, a hundred questions buzzing through her mind with the speed of light, jumbled, searching and not knowing which question to ask.
‘How are you?’ Conor’s voice was polite, his expression friendly.
Joanna’s skin prickled as tension rippled through her body. Her companion felt this and turned towards her.
‘Joanna, what’s wrong?’
She flicked her eyes at him. ‘Nothing, no, it’s OK.’
The man looked at Conor. ‘Would you get out of the way? Whoever you are, you’re upsetting my wife.’
Joanna had her armed linked through the crook of his elbow. She reached over with her free hand and touched him. ‘No, please David, it’s OK.’ She looked at Conor. ‘We have nothing to say to each other. Please leave.’
Conor smiled. ‘Nothing, Joanna? I think we have a great deal to …..’ He stopped as Joanna’s companion reached forward and put his hand on his chest.
Joanna’s reaction was driven by fear and the knowledge of how lethal Conor could be. She grabbed his arm and pulled it back.
‘No! He will leave, David, I promise.’
He looked at her with uncertainty on his face. ‘So you do know him?’
‘She shook her head. ‘It was a long time ago.’ She turned and looked at Conor, her eyes pleading. ‘Please, Conor.’
For a few seconds it didn’t look as though Conor was going anywhere. Then he nodded and stepped aside.
Joanna felt the relief swamp her. She pulled her husband away and they walked off.
Conor watched as they hurried from the foyer. Her husband looked back over his shoulder. Conor thought he might have been checking to see he wasn’t following them out of the hotel. But he noticed that he wasn’t looking directly at him. Suddenly he was aware of two men beside him. They each grabbed Conor’s arms above the elbows. It was done without fuss and without it looking like violence.
‘Let’s walk, careful like.’
There was no mistaking the command. Conor allowed himself to be marched out of the hotel by the two heavies. He saw Joanna and her husband climbing into the back of a Mercedes as the two men steered him away from the front entrance. Once the car had pulled away from the hotel, they released Conor.
‘Whoever you are, don’t come back. Clear?’
The command was delivered levelly and without histrionics, but it contained the threat with which Conor was familiar. He watched the two men walk over to a parked car, climb in and drive away. He guessed they were ‘minding’ Joanna and her husband.
He went back into the hotel and walked up to the concierge’s desk. The concierge looked up and smiled at him.
‘Mr. Lenihan, how can I help you?’
Conor turned a little and pointed over his shoulder. ‘I’ve just spoken to one of your guests: someone I thought I recognised. She was with a guy. I thought I knew her, but I was wrong.’
‘You are probably referring to Mrs Aaron.’
‘Was that her husband with her?’
‘David Aaron, yes.’
Franz breathed in loudly through his nostrils. ‘Yes.’
Conor got the impression Franz did not approve. ‘Do they come here often?’
‘Occasionally. They fly in from Germany.’
Franz shook his head. ‘She’s English actually, but was married to a German. She’s a widow now.’
Conor affected a suitably surprised look. ‘Oh, I see. And he’s ….’
Franz gave him a blank look. ‘That’s all I am prepared to say.’
A hotel guest walked up to the desk. The concierge immediately turned his attention to the guest. Conor knew he would get no more from him. He walked away and decided he would do some digging, using the facilities at the company office. So there was to be no Abu Dhabi, no Caribbean: just some covert surveillance.
He should have taken the holiday because what was to come was going to turn into a bloody nightmare.
Levi Eshkol and his long-time friend, Avi Binbaum, sat almost motionless staring at the chess board. They were enjoying the early morning sun and a coffee in Ha-Medina Square in Tel Aviv. Binbaum was holding out, waiting for an attack from Eshkol that would checkmate his King, but hoping his opponent hadn’t seen it.
They had known each other for many years and always enjoyed each other’s company. The two of them had reached that age when old men often pass the time of day in harmless pursuit of genteel games. Like Eshkol, Binbaum’s hair was thinning and struggled against the press of the yarmulke. His beard was tidy, but not as well trimmed as Eshkol’s. Between them they would have appeared to offer no more threat to the people around them than two infants would as their mothers pushed them in their strollers.
But these two old men posed a far greater threat to the Israeli nation than any passer-by could have imagined. They were part of the hegemony that almost took control of Manfred Schiller’s empire through the Covenant that Schiller’s daughter-in-law had managed to stop. Now, one year later, they still harboured the desire to wrest control of the Covenant and use the strength of Schiller’s empire to destroy Iran and all of Israel’s enemies.
‘Have you heard anything yet?’
Eshkol looked up from the chessboard. ‘From David?’ He shook his head. ‘Not yet. I’m expecting a call about now.’ He looked at his watch. ‘I think the woman is playing hardball.’
‘Do you think she will marry him?’
Eshkol shrugged. ‘I hope so.’ He chuckled. ‘It’s a sacrifice David is willing to make.’
‘Some sacrifice; she’s a beautiful woman.’
‘And clever.’ He studied the chess board again, his mind on the game once more.
The two men fell into silence as the traffic rumbled by. Conversations from other tables rolled over them, jumbled along with that of pedestrians walking past. Suddenly Eshkol’s mobile phone vibrated on the table. He put the phone to his ear and listened. Binbaum watched him, and could see the frown gathering on his friend’s face. Eventually, Eshkol cut the call and put the phone in his pocket.
‘That was David. We might have a small problem. Conor Lenihan. Does that name ring a bell?’
Binbaum shook his head. ‘Not sure. Why?’
‘His name has come up.’ He explained the effect that Conor had on Joanna when she saw him. ‘She’s reluctant to say anything, but David believes there is a connection that needs investigating.’
Avi Binbaum had been a leading figure in Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency. Although long retired, he still had connections in the agency.
‘I’ll see what I can come up with,’ he told Eshkol. ‘It might be nothing: a fling she had.’
‘David doesn’t seem to think so. She was in love with her first husband when he died. There’s been no-one else since.’ He put his hand on a chess piece, lifted it and then changed his mind. He let the chess piece settle. ‘I’ve been thinking about Schiller and how we lose everything if he dies unexpectedly. If David hasn’t won the woman’s hand before that, we can forget the whole thing; the infant boy will inherit the corporation.’
‘And we have no control over that,’ Binbaum observed. ‘Only the good Lord.’
‘Exactly. So let me put this to you.’
He went on to explain a carefully thought out plan.
‘You’re mad, Levi,’ Binbaum told him with a chuckle. He leaned back in his chair. ‘It would never work.’
‘Not if we make contact with the Germans.’
‘They could do this. It’s our only hope.’
Silence followed as Binbaum chewed over the prospect of putting the risky plan into action. Eventually he spoke.
‘I’ll give it some thought, Levi. We’ll speak of it again.’
They returned their attention to the chess game. Suddenly, Eshkol let out a short cry of triumph and moved his knight. ‘Checkmate!’ he declared and sat back with a huge grin on his face.
Binbaum shook his head, a wry smile gathering on his face. ‘You always were too good for me, Levi.’
Eshkol drained his coffee. ‘That’s because you play chess like a schoolboy.’
The two men finished their morning off with idle talk until it was time to leave. Eshkol departed remembering the day they lost control of the Covenant once Manfred Schiller had collapsed, while Binbaum gave some thought to the Eshkol’s complex idea and the mysterious Conor Lenihan.
Joanna kicked off her shoes and lay back in the chair. Her phone was back on the table but felt like it was still struck to her ear. David had been overbearing with her, arguing to a point where she wanted him to just shut up. She did realise he was only thinking of her best interests, and that of little Manny, but the thought nagged away at her continuously; she hadn’t gone through the trauma of battling to stop the Covenant and get little Manny back just to give it up without good reason.
She glanced over at the clock and then at her watch. It was past midnight and she needed sleep. The house was quiet and peaceful, and bed was where she wanted to be. She sighed heavily and pushed the chair back, then walked through to the bathroom. She was tempted to forgo the quick shower, but a long day had taken its toll. Ten minutes later she turned down brightness of the main light until it was little more than a soft glow and slipped into bed, welcoming the cool feel of the sheets and the enveloping comfort of the soft, downy pillow. Her mind buzzed for a while, but gave in slowly until she was fast asleep: sweet, peaceful sleep.
Conor watched. He was completely still and had been like that from the moment Joanna walked into the bathroom. He waited until he could hear her deep breathing before approaching the bed. He sat down on it, slowly, not wanting to wake her yet; he just wanted to look at her, to see the gentle lift of her shoulders as she breathed. The sheet had slipped a little revealing her back. She had nothing on.
Conor thought about the time before she lured him into the honey trap, when they had almost become lovers. He had never believed she could come to love him because of what he had done to her family, but he did believe she had allowed her heart to soften towards him. He thought, no, he hoped then that it was enough. And as he watched her sleeping, he knew he still wanted her.
He placed his hand on her shoulder. He could feel its softness beneath his calloused hand. He squeezed softly and gradually eased her over on to her back. She stirred and he watched, waiting.
Suddenly Joanna’s eyes snapped open. She turned her head, unaware why she had woken. Then she saw Conor sitting there. He was a silhouette, a shadowy figure. She lifted her head as she started to sit up, and her mouth opened to scream. And as the sheet fell away, revealing her breasts, Conor clamped his hand over her mouth and pushed her back on to the pillow. Her eyes widened in absolute terror and she began struggling to free herself from Conor’s iron grip.
‘Joanna, it’s me, Conor.’ He relaxed the pressure but kept his hand there. ‘Don’t struggle; I’m not here to hurt you.’
She tried to shake her head but couldn’t. Her eyes filled with tears making it difficult to see him. To her he was just something, a monster, and she could feel the fear building inside her.
‘Joanna.’ He leaned forward. ‘Listen to me.’ He waited. ‘I’m not going to hurt you. It’s me, Conor. Do you understand?’
Suddenly she blinked rapidly and the tears rolled down her cheeks. She nodded although with very little movement.
‘I’m going to take my hand away. I won’t touch you. Do you understand?’
She nodded again.
‘Good. But if you scream, I will have to stop you.’ He leaned forward slightly. ‘And if any of your night staff turn up, well, you know what I can do.’
Joanna knew how dangerous and ruthless he could be. She forced herself to relax. Conor removed his hand.
‘Hallo Joanna.’ He smiled.
She could just about make out his dark features which were distorted by the weak light and his stubbly growth.
‘Please don’t hurt me, Conor. Please. Please.’
He watched the tears fall and the utter dread showing in her face.
‘I’m not going to. I promise.’
She realised the sheet was round her waist. She pulled it up over her breasts.
‘What do you want, Conor? What are you doing here?’
‘I want to know why you tried to kill me.’
Joanna shook her head. ‘I didn’t. I swear.’ He said nothing for a while; just watched as she groped for more words. ‘I had no choice; I was…’
She dropped her head began sobbing. Conor reached forward and lifted her chin gently, forcing her to look at him. ‘We all have a choice, Joanna.’
‘No, I couldn’t, I daren’t…’
‘Joanna!’ He put his hand up. She flinched. ‘Joanna, listen. Don’t get hysterical; I’m not here to punish you, so just calm down.’ He let his hand drop and leaned away from her, hoping she might feel less threatened. ‘Believe me, Joanna, all I want is to talk, to get an explanation and then I’ll leave you alone. You won’t see me again, I promise.’
She looked beyond him as though she was expecting to see others there. Then, holding the sheet tight against her, she reached out for the light switch and turned the bedroom lights up to a full brilliance.
‘Do you want to get dressed?’ he asked. ‘Put something on?’
She shook her head. ‘How did you get in?’
He laughed. It was a short, explosive laugh. ‘You’re security sucks. I climbed over the wall during the shift change. No-one’s paying attention then. I went round the back of the house and came in that way.’
‘But the entry code?’
‘You haven’t changed it. I remembered it from my last visit.’
Joanna recalled the few days Conor had been there: how they had worked hard to stop the Covenant being transferred to Israel.
‘I didn’t …’
He shook his head. ‘No, you didn’t think it was necessary. Probably wasn’t. But I’m here now and I have some questions.’
Joanna began to relax because she believed Conor would be true to his word and not hurt her.
‘Can I get dressed now?’
He smiled. ‘You want me to look away?’
‘I’d rather not,’ he said as he turned his back on her.
He listened to the sound of her scrambling out of the bedclothes and imagined what she looked like as she padded across the floor. He let his mind dwell on the impossible until he heard her come back into the room. She was wearing a silk dressing gown.
‘Would you like a drink, Conor?’
‘No thank you. Just some answers.’
Joanna sat on a chair beside the dressing table. Conor stayed where he was.
‘When I took you to the cabin,’ she began, ‘I didn’t know what Hoffman was going to do. I suppose I thought he was going to arrest you or something like that.’
‘So you didn’t know he had planned my execution?’ She shook her head. Conor was able to believe that because Joanna would not have understood the rules of the end game. ‘It never occurred to you that he couldn’t arrest me? He tried it once but had to let me go. No evidence.’
‘I don’t know what I was thinking. But when I found you, I thought you were dead.’
Joanna realised Conor could not have known what happened when she ran back to the cabin. She told him.
‘So you saved my life?’
‘The ambulance crew did that.’
‘But if you hadn’t called them…’ He left it unsaid. ‘But what made you go along with Hoffman in the first place?’
Joanna took a deep breath, like a deep, deep sigh. ‘He threatened me. Said if he made it known that I had been harbouring a dangerous terrorist, one that had been responsible for Manny’s kidnap and the death of so many people, then my father-in-law would ensure that little Manny would be taken away from me. Hoffman suggested that I could be implicated in the kidnap plot. I would go to prison and then be extradited back to UK and I would never see my son again.’
Conor could see now why Joanna was willing to sacrifice him to save herself and her son. He didn’t blame her; he would have done the same thing.
‘But you didn’t know about the hit?’
‘No, not until I heard the shots.’
‘What made you come back?’
Joanna lowered her head. Then she suddenly lifted it, her chin high. ‘I couldn’t leave you.’ She shrugged. ‘It was as simple as that.’
‘It was lucky you thought that way. Or thought that much of me,’ he added.
She glanced at him and then looked away. Conor wondered if she was unable or afraid to say what she really felt. He knew she took a risk going back because the men who shot him were killers; they would not have hesitated in shooting Joanna.
‘Have you seen Hoffman since?’
‘No. That was the agreement.’
‘So it’s all over.’ He waited for her to say something. ‘Isn’t it, Joanna?’
He sensed reluctance in that simple answer. ‘The Covenant was exercised, wasn’t it?’
She shook her head and looked down at her hands which were clasped together. ‘No. My father-in-law suffered a heart attack. He was unable to sign off the documents.’
‘No, but he’s no better than a vegetable now. He’s under twenty four hour care.’
‘So that’s it: the Covenant is dead in the water. The Israelis don’t have control.’
‘At the moment, no.’
‘At the moment?’
Joanna stood up and pulled the cords on her dressing gown a little tighter. ‘Would you like a drink, Conor?’
‘Water will do.’
Joanna left the room. Conor did nothing to stop her; he knew she would not call for help. She returned with two glasses. She handed Conor his water and sat beside him on the bed.
‘The Covenant would have been signed off by Schiller the moment the Israelis had control of the satellites, but because of what we did, their plan fell apart. And that was when my father-in-law had a heart attack. He would have put his signature to the last document if he had been capable. It never happened, Conor: the Covenant wasn’t exercised.’
‘There’s a “but” coming, isn’t there?’
She took a sip of her drink. ‘My father-in-law knew his health was failing, so to protect the Covenant, he had his lawyers draw up a Prokura. That’s a power of attorney,’ she told him before he could ask. ‘If he dies, the Prokura is invalid.’
‘So why hasn’t the person who has the authority to sign off the Covenant, done it already?’
‘He has gone missing — no-one knows where he is.’
‘And Schiller cannot….’
‘No, he’s incapable. Close to death too.’
‘And if he dies without the Prokura being activated, his empire will pass down to your son, Manny.’
‘Which would kill off the Covenant and all it stood for instantly.’
Conor whistled softly through his teeth. He looked at Joanna, at her lovely face and could see the worry etched into her features. He raised his hand and held his forefinger up.
‘One. Find the Prokura, or whoever it is who holds it.’
‘Two. If Schiller dies, your twelve month old son inherits a vast empire. So whoever controls little Manny….’ He let that drift away for a moment. ‘And three — if Hoffman has any dreams of controlling this outcome, he could carry out his threat, you would be separated from your son and probably thrown into prison.’
Joanna raised her eyebrows and gave a little nod of her head. ‘Complicated, isn’t it?’
He drank his water. Joanna reached over and took the glass from him. As her fingers touched his, he felt a tingling sensation move up his arm.
‘What about the man I saw you with in London? Where does he fit into all this?’
‘David? He wants to marry me and adopt little Manny.’
‘Are you two….?’
‘No!’ The word was snapped out. ‘And in case you’re wondering: I haven’t slept with any man since my husband died.’
‘Not even close?’
She looked directly into Conor’s eyes, her expression reflecting something that was in Conor’s mind. ‘There could have somebody. Once.’
‘How long have you known him?’
‘Will you marry him?’
She got up from the bed and placed the two empty glasses on her dressing table. ‘Who’s to know?’ she said.
Conor could see that Joanna was relaxed about his presence now, no longer tense. He thought she was probably teasing him about David. It was none of his business anyway.
‘I think I should go, Joanna.’ He stood up. ‘I’ve heard enough.’
‘The alarms are set. They’ll go off the moment you walk out of the house. The police will be here within minutes.’
‘So what would you have me do?’
Joanna crossed the room and stopped in front of him. Her dressing gown slipped to the floor as she lifted her arms and put them round his neck.
‘I hate you, Conor,’ she whispered. ‘I hate you for making me fall in love with you.’
Then she reached for the light switch and plunged the room into darkness.