Katrina turned to Vassily. “Nice work Vassily. I’ll take it from here.” She held her hand out for the gun. The Russian, with the look of a man long used to taking orders from beautiful women, passed the gun over.
Katrina took the gun, checked it was loaded and shot Vassily, one shot cleanly through the forehead. Kenton was impressed; she hadn’t even appeared to be looking at Vassily at the time, much less taking aim.
“Loose ends. They can be so tiresome.” She paused and turned to the horrified Outhwaite. "Don’t you think, my dear, sweet Peter?" Kenton watched her walk, no, he thought, this woman stalked, she stalked across the room to Outhwaite.
Outhwaite had remained alive and at the top of the mercenary game for as long as he had because he had never stopped to think, never looked before he leapt, never considered his options. A man alone for most of his life, he had been free to act on instinct and worry about the consequences later, if he were still alive after the guns stopped firing.
But now he had another to think of and in the bare second he took think of the best way to stay alive through this very dangerous turn of events, Katrina had her gun up and ready.
He had just enough time to say “Andy?”, hoping that Kenton would understand, before he, too, was dead.
Katrina who looked down at his body, sprawled now where he had sat, the back of his head splattered across the cushions behind him. She shook her head slowly, her lips curling up in a pitying sneer.
“Peter, Peter, Peter.” she said sardonically, "You were one of the best and now look. You betrayed your friends for your beliefs. Such a principled man." She turned to Kenton and laughed, "Always the easiest to con. They want to believe. Such a pity Vassily was lying... and working for us. Oh well." Katrina said brightly, “Maybe his god will forgive him.”
“Who are you?” Kenton asked, trying to put on a show of bravado, “Who’s ’us’? Who do you work for?” Kenton swallowed hard, doing his best to keep his attention focused on the room and the gun pointing at him rather than the powerful sexual woman behind it. The woman was a bewitching combination of sex and murder with a body that looked like it could destroy a man.
Katrina reached up and ran her fingers through his hair and smiled seductively, pressing her body against his, her breasts pushing against his chest, the gun against his stomach.
“All good questions my dear James.” She whispered, her lips brushing against his ear as she spoke. “You’ll get your answers soon enough but right now I have to be elsewhere.” She stroked his neck and then applied swift pressure to the cluster of nerves just behind his ear, rendering him unconscious. Katrina let him drop to the floor and, stepping carefully over the dead bodies, walked over to the windows, leant out and whistled. The two burly Egyptian men who were waiting outside looked up. She beckoned them to come up.
Inspector Morris and Sergeant Taylor wandered through the cool Cairo evening, heading slowly back to their hotel. Both were silent. They had parted company from their Nubian assistants, leaving them to persuade Rashid not to discuss their conversation. Morris was rapidly losing patience with this case, this city and with it any of his finer feelings towards his fellow man.
Taylor, who’d learned to read his superior’s moods, kept quiet as they walked along.
“God I hate this case.” Morris swore. “You know what Taylor, I’m even beginning to miss my boring, insulting, fucking put me out to pasture desk job back in London compared to this insanity. What the hell is going on? Huh? Can you tell me what the hell is going on?” he said bitterly. An orderly man by nature with an incisive, logical mind, the twists and turns of this case were infuriating him to the edge of his temper. Trying to solve this case was like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. Worse, he thought, it was like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing when the picture kept changing! Morris vented some of his frustration by kicking a stone at the wall. It didn’t help much.
Taylor said nothing.
Morris lapsed back into morose silence and the two of them continued on their way, each thinking much the same thoughts. Why had Outhwaite gone to see Apep two days before they had spoken to him? Who was he working for? Where was James Kenton? Who was he working for? And who was the bloody Frenchman who kept popping up, shooting people and then disappearing again? Who had the pendent? What was the pendent? And what were two Metropolitan coppers doing on the case in the first place?
That last question was becoming less important to them as the case went on. Each had seen so much murder since starting on the case that even if the Chief Constable himself took them off it they weren’t sure if they could walk away any more.
“Hey! Watch where you’re going!”
Morris looked up, startled, to see a hard eyed, yet beautiful woman frowning at him briefly before walking away. He stood and watched her go. A statuesque, very curvaceous body, the visual, physical impact of which was diminished not at all by her khaki outfit. Morris found it hard to catch his breath. He wouldn’t forget that woman for a long while he thought.
Taylor coughed and startled Morris out of his reverie.
“Right Sergeant.” he said, “Shall we go?”
“Yes sir.” Taylor said managing to keep a straight face at Morris’s discomfiture.
Katrina was headed towards the opulent Hotel Olde Money where, waiting for her inside, was her boss.
The Farouk Suite was by far the largest that this, the best hotel in Cairo, had to offer. It offered the guest the use of two sumptuous bedrooms and ornate marble bath room, a dressing room off each of the bedroom, a finely appointed living room and quarters for a small staff. The current occupant was sitting behind a desk in the living area tapping a pen against her fingernails. She got up and began to pace, waiting impatiently for the news of the evening’s activity.
A tall elegant woman in her early fifties, she clearly had a lot of money and she wore it well. Too much style to be immediately dismissed as new money but with out the penny-pinching disregard for the fine things money could buy that marks out old money. She was, in fact, that most hated of combinations (but one that was becoming more common, to the horror of the old guard): new money married to old money. Her father, an eccentric inventor had caused scandal and a family rift that remained unhealed (about either she cared not one bit) by favouring her, the first born, in his will over her younger brother. In her early thirties she had been at the middle of more scandal when she married one of the most eligible bachelors in London society of the day: the young Duke of Norfolk.
Still more scandal had followed when the Duke had died shortly after she had provided him with an heir. But she had done all the right things, mourned for the correct amount of time and quietly began to attend functions again. Always dressed and behaving soberly (avoiding the dreadful excesses of the bright young things both in dress and action) she took her place as a single woman who could be relied upon to make up the numbers without stealing the limelight from her hostess.
In time London society’s gossips had turned their attention to another scandal and she became, if not accepted, at least no longer the focus of disapproval. She herself didn’t really give a hoot what people thought but she had her son to think of and it was important to business that she take her proper place in society. And so she had become the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk and accepted all that that entailed.
On the surface at least. The Duchess took great care to always present the proper front. Always polite and well mannered, always well dressed with perfectly coifed hair, yet the façade of a well-bred gentlewoman didn’t quite hide the steel beneath.
All the staff of the Hotel Olde Money agreed there was something very cold about the Dowager Duchess. None could put their finger on precisely what it was but all knew that one look from those icy grey eyes would discourage the most garrulous of waiters or fellow guests.
The Duchess continued to pace, Katrina was late and she was worried. Ordinarily it wouldn’t concern her, Katrina could most surely look after herself, but her adversaries were bringing out the big guns now and it was barely a fortnight since one of her most capable operatives had been killed. She had been unable to attend the funeral because the work continued. However much she had loved the dead girl, she had others working for her who were also risking their lives every day. The Duchess leant against the windowsill, looked out at the street below and sighed, her shoulders slumping. Despite what evil gossips had said about her at the time, she had truly mourned the passing of her husband and missed him still. Oh she could handle the business, even the murkier aspects, but the support of a loved one would be treasured at a time like this. And even the good times weren’t as much fun without the Duke to enjoy them with, to plot and plan with. She smiled sadly, those two policemen! How James would have enjoyed their trials and tribulations at the hands of the men from the Ministry.
What none of the gossipmongers had realised when she and James had announced their engagement was that the Duke wasn’t quite the man they all thought he was. If they had known, she thought, the two of them would have been run out of London most probably. Or would they? It was amazing, even now, how much a title could protect you from. If those busybodies had only known that he and her father had met because her father had discovered a new way to refine cocaine! James, who had been the main London source for many years had gone into business with her father and the new process had meant they could undercut anyone else’s prices and had swiftly become the only supplier to the whole of the South of England. Europe had beckoned when her father had been killed in South America. She had hidden away for a year mourning the loss of her beloved father and then she and the Duke had come back stronger than ever. Married now, the pair of them had ruled the roost in London and Northern Europe. Only one thing had marred their happiness, they had never found who had killed her father. Well one day she would. One day. And that would be a job she would take care of personally.
The Duchess went back to her desk, enough wool-gathering, she needed to focus on the business in hand. She tapped a long red fingernail against the desk with annoyance. She still didn’t have the damn pendent and she was still in Cairo. She had only been in Egypt for a few days but she had decided she hated it. It was winter so at least it wasn’t excruciatingly hot but it smelled, even compared to London, there were too many insects and, since this had been a British protectorate, you’d think someone would be able to make a good cup of tea. Even the tea they served at the Embassy was not really tea. The Egyptians just didn’t understand the point of the English cuppa she supposed. It was like trying to explain cricket: either people understood or they didn’t.
With luck Katrina would have good news for her tonight. She looked out over the street below and sighed. She missed London.
“Henry?” she called. Her butler stepped into the living room. “Be a dear and rustle up some dinner for Katrina when she arrives would you? And have another go at producing a proper cup of tea.” She smiled with a warmth that would have surprised the staff and other guests of the hotel.
“I’ll do my best ma’am.” Henry replied lugubriously, “But I don’t hold out much hope. It’s the water I think ma’am.”
“Never mind Henry, I know you’re doing your best with what you’ve got here. We’ll be leaving soon with luck.”
“Really ma’am?” Henry said, thinking of the Phantom II (his and his mistress’ pride and joy) back at home in England, left in the perilous care of the under gardener, a somewhat uncouth Londoner who swore he was a ‘whizz’ with cars. A note of hope lightened his usual mournful tone. “You’re not just teasing me?”
“Would I Henry? No, I hope my business will be concluded in the next couple of days and then we can leave this country, this whole continent frankly and, if we’re truly lucky, never have to return.”
“Besides, we need to be back in London soon, there’s Lord Salisbury’s party on… the fifth isn’t it Henry?”
“That’s right ma’am. And you have an appointment with Sebastian on the fourth.”
“Oh good. I will need all his skill to rescue my poor hair after all the heat and dust of this place.”
“Yes ma’am.” Henry said without inflection.
She laughed. “Oh Henry. I’m sorry. You are a great man to have stayed with me after James died. I don’t know how I could have managed without you.”
“Thank you ma’am.” Henry said, uncomfortable at the praise, the tips of his ears going pink.
“You are a gentleman’s gentleman, Henry, what are you doing listening to a fifty year old lady who worries about the state of her hair?”
“Never mind, Henry.” she smiled. Baiting Henry always lightened her mood. He had been her husband’s gentleman’s gentleman for twenty years before the Duke passed on and thankfully had agreed to stay on to perform much the same function for her. Except now he had to deal with hairdressers and manicurists, which he had never done for James. She wasn’t sure how she would cope without him. Aside from her adversaries, he was the only man she didn’t have to pretend for: pretend to be less than she was; pretend she needed their advice; pretend she needed them. James had been a rare man indeed, willing to see her as an equal. Henry was handy to have around for the business as well. There were many people she had to deal with who preferred to talk to a man and Henry was a strong and resourceful bodyguard as well.
“Miss Cavanaugh is here ma’am.”
“Excellent. Show her in would you?”
Katrina walked in and slumped down into the sofa.
“Your coffee Miss Cavanaugh. I added a little to it, you look like you need it.” Henry smiled.
“Henry you are an angel.” Katrina took the small cup and took a sip of the potent brew. She sighed.
“I don’t know how you can drink that foul liquid!” the Duchess exclaimed. “Even with the shot of whiskey. And I shan’t ask how you acquired that.” she said with a grin to Henry.
“Best not ma’am.” Henry left the women to their business.
“So Katrina.” The Duchess leaned forward and started tapping a pencil against her fingernails. “How did it go?”
“Outhwaite and Vassily are dead. Kenton’s hidden.”
“Does he have the pendent?”
“As far as I’m aware yes. I didn’t have time to ask him before coming round here so I just knocked him out and stashed him. I figured I could spend some time with him after I’m done here.”
“I want that pendant Katrina. Now more than ever. Those bastards at the Ministry killed Charlotte for no other reason than she happened to be in the boat with Kenton.”
“Well, to be fair, she was doing a little more than just happening to be in the boat.” Katrina smiled, “She was better than me at infiltration.”
“The Ministry didn’t know she was working for me! They blew that boat out of the water to destroy the pendant and Kenton and didn’t care that there was a British citizen on the boat as well. That bloody Frenchman beat me to Wakely but there will have been someone behind Wakely and one day I’ll kill him.”
She paused, thinking of Charlotte, “But first the pendent. Losing Charlotte means I’m working blind now, I’m trying to get someone else in place with the Ministry but we’ll have to accept that we’re never going to get another source inside the Chinaman’s organisation and that could cripple us so we have to move fast.
“I think Kenton’s ready to switch sides, from whatever side he was on in the first place and if you could find that out if would be useful.”
“I thought he was working for the Ministry.”
“A man like Kenton wouldn’t risk his life for just the one employer and I would be very surprised to find that the Ministry was actually involved. Officially I mean. Say what you like about them, and I’ve said plenty, I really don’t think the Ministry is in the game of blowing away British citizens. Not that way any way. A knife in a dark alley perhaps. Be that as it may, the Ministry, or Ministry officials working for their own gain, were trying to kill him with the bomb that killed Charlotte so he may be amenable to helping us. Go to work on him Katrina. See what you can get out of him.”
“Is there anything else? You don’t seem has happy as you usually do after… successfully completing an assignment.”
“We’ve got a couple of problems. D’Huberres and the English policemen.”
“What’s happened? Tell me about D’Huberres first.”
“He suspects something. He tried to follow me tonight.”
“Did he succeed?”
Katrina snorted with derision. “Of course not! He’s like all men, so bewitched by my ‘feminine charms’” she grinned, “That as soon as I hide them, they just don’t see me. Islamic dress codes just make it easier for me. But still, I don’t like the fact that he tried. I don’t know, it may just be his natural suspicion or he may actually suspect something.”
“Damn and blast! I knew even you wouldn’t be able to string him along for ever, but I was hoping to be out of Cairo before we had to deal with him.”
The Duchess thought for a while, “I think we’ve still got some time. It’ll take a few days, I would have thought, before he goes from suspecting you might be up to something you’re not telling him about to realising that you’ve been lying about everything. Keep him sweet for as long as you can,” the Duchess gave Katrina a long, appraising look and smiled, “You know how. But if he so much as looks like he’s about to turn, finish him. He’s useful to us as a dupe, but not enough to risk him taking information to Chinaman, or, even worse, the Ministry. Still we should be safe on that score. Now he’s killed Wakely and Wilson, I doubt the Ministry would believe D’Huberres if he told them Tuesday followed Monday!”
“What about the policemen?”
“I bumped into them on my way here. The older one got a good look at my face.”
“For God’s sake Katrina! That was bloody careless!" The Duchess took a deep breath, trying to regain her hold on her temper, "How bad?”
“Impossible to say.” She paused as Henry came in and draped a large cloth over her knees and handed her a knife and fork. He headed back to the servants quarters and came back out again with a plate stacked high with steaming hot English food. Katrina gasped at the sight of it and started eating like she’d been starved for a week.
“Henry!” the Duchess exclaimed, “You have surpassed yourself this time. Bacon and sausages in Cairo, how did you manage that magic trick.”
“I made some friends among the Embassy staff as soon as we arrived ma’am. A good man needs contacts. The Duke taught me that. Can I get you anything?”
“No. Thank you Henry, we’re fine.”
“Very good ma’am.”
It didn’t take long for Katrina to wolf down the amazing dinner. Washing it down with the last of her coffee, she spoke again. “I’m sorry Peg.” Few could get away with calling the Duchess ‘Peg’, even ‘Margaret’ was something reserved for very close acquaintances, of whom there were few. “I wasn’t paying attention and neither were they and we just collided with each other. I got away from them as soon as possible but he definitely got a look at my face.”
“And that may be all he needs.” She thought for a while, “Relax Katrina. These things happen. Sometimes fate just takes a hand. There’s nothing we can do about it now. If he recognised you then he recognised you. I don’t think it’s going to provide them with that much information. They’re so confused right now you could draw them a map and they wouldn’t be able to follow it. This may actually work in our favour. Add another level of obfuscation. We’ll have to keep you well away from them in future though.”
The Duchess was more worried than she let on. Her chosen profession in England had pitted her against the Metropolitan force many times. For the most part she thought of them as bumbling idiots to be danced around and laughed at. But there were some you didn’t mess with. Some you stepped carefully round. And some from whom you backed off completely and stopped work for a few months until their attention had been drawn elsewhere. Sergeant Taylor was a man you stepped carefully around but Inspector Morris, he was the sort you backed away from. Luckily, as far as she could tell, neither of them had the slightest inkling that she was involved. Even so, if the stakes weren’t so high...
“I’ll pay more attention in future.” Katrina said, still sounding remorseful.
“Be sure you do.”
Katrina left and the Duchess leant back in her chair and started to plan her next moves, continuing to tap her pencil against her fingernails, an absent minded habit that she had first started because it had annoyed the hell out of the nuns at her boarding school.
She sat up suddenly; sure she had seen movement out of the corner of her eye. There! She reached down and grabbed... what the heck was it? Some sort of bug that had come out of her desk?
“Henry?” she called.
“Come and look at this. It just crawled out of the desk.”
“The desk ma’am?”
“I swear to you Henry, I saw it come out of the desk. Find something to put it in would you?”
Henry went to the kitchen to get a box to put it in and quickly returned. He took the bug off the Duchess and after giving it a quick once over dropped it in the box and sealed the lid.
“It didn’t look natural to me ma’am.”
“Really? I didn’t look that closely.” she shuddered. “In what way did it not look natural?”
“Well, just that I’ve never seen anything like it before. And you say it crawled out of the desk?”
The Duchess nodded.
“Well, where from?” Henry asked, “There’s no hole, like you get with wood worm.”
The two of them sat quietly, trying to figure this out. The Duchess started tapping her pencil against her fingernails again, lost in thought when Henry waved to attract her attention and gestured towards the desk. Another bug was crawling out. The two of them sat and watched the bug apparently materialise out of the desk and start crawling down the leg. Henry grabbed it and dropped it in the box with the first one.
“Burn every scrap of furniture in this place, then check us out. Get me rooms elsewhere. The Embassy if you have to. I’m not staying here. And see if you can find out what these bugs are.”
Taylor walked down to the hotel restaurant where he saw Inspector Morris had already finished his breakfast and was doing the Times crossword.
“Morning sir. Anything interesting in the paper?”
“What? Oh this, this is about a month old Taylor, I found it in the Library. I thought the crossword might help restore a sense of normality to the world.”
“Is it working sir?”
“No Taylor. Not really.”
Taylor ordered breakfast and another coffee for the Inspector and sat silently waiting for his food to arrive. He didn’t care for Cairo any more than the Inspector did, and with good reason, the Sergeant thought to himself, he’d been here before. But the Inspector’s continuous bad mood was beginning to wear him down. He, too, longed for the boring routine in London, even wished for The Whisperer to return. Anything would be better than the snarling...
“Jesus!” Morris spat his coffee over the crossword. “It’s her!”
“Coffee too hot sir?” Taylor asked, mopping down his shirt front.
“It’s her! That woman.”
“Which woman sir?”
“That woman who bumped into me last night.”
“Oh, that woman.”
“You remember me saying, back in the Eastern Breeze, that there was something funny about one of the guests in the Bengal Lancer that night we went with Wakely.”
A lot had happened since but Taylor vaguely remembered. “The young couple by the window sir?”
“That was they. I know what was so odd about them now. I recognised them. I didn’t realise I’d seen them before but I had, they were in the railway carriage on the way up.”
“Get out your notebook Taylor and remind me of our fellow travellers, I know they were in there somewhere.”
Taylor flipped back through his notebook until he found the right page.
“Right sir, here we go, there were four nuns, a schoolmistress, a young widow...”
“The widow.” Morris interrupted. “Can you remember what she looked like?”
“I’ve written down here she was a young widow of indeterminable means of support. And she... well...” Taylor paused, embarrassed.
“What is it Taylor?”
“Well, whenever you left the carriage, she… well, I got the impression she was interested in me, if you know what I mean.”
“Really Taylor? And do you think you’d know her again if you saw her?”
“Well,” Taylor said doubtfully, “Yes, I think so.” he said more positively. “It was odd, she looked like nothing much at all when you were in the carriage but when she turned on me she really took my breath away. Yes I reckon I’d know her again.”
“It would surprise you to know then that you’ve seen her twice since. At least.”
“No! Really sir? You think she’s...”
“Yes, I do. In the Bengal Lancer, she was the young woman of the couple by the window that we both thought were out of place and last night, she was the woman who bumped into me. I got a good look at her eyes and that’s what got me to thinking. I’m sure the widow on the train, the young woman in the Bengal Lancer and the woman we bumped into last night were all the same woman.”
“But that means sir...”
“Yes Taylor.” Morris said through gritted teeth, “It means I have even less of an idea of what’s going on here than I did when I woke up.”