He closed his eyes, switched on his iron discipline, and forced himself to sleep.
The fat man grinned, revealing a set of the ugliest teeth Hunter had ever seen, and reached forwards across the table to scoop up his winnings. Hunter’s arm shot out to stop him.
“Sorry, Antoine.” Hunter slowly laid four beautiful jacks slowly out on the table. “I believe that’s my game.”
The Frenchman made a noise that was part anger and part disbelief. Jack Hanley, or whatever his real name was, had shown up in Riga a week ago and proceeded to clean up at every major poker table in the city. The stakes weren’t particularly high tonight. The Frenchman could afford to lose, as could the Latvian businessmen at tonight’s game. Still, there was something about Jack Hanley, a certain American arrogance dressed up as humility, that was starting to get on everybody’s nerves. That and the fact that he always quit when he was ahead.
“Is that really the time?” Hunter glanced at the antique grandfather clock in the corner of the room. “I think I’d better call it a night.”
Ignoring the grumbling of his fellow players—it was after midnight after all—Hunter grabbed his coat and headed into the night.
He preferred Latvia to Romania, and especially liked Riga, a city steeped in both history and romance. His hotel looked directly over the dome cathedral in Vecrīga, the old city, a building that dated back to the thirteenth century and still whispered of knights in shining armor and damsels in distress. Only two weeks ago, Group 99 had orchestrated a flyover of the cathedral, dropping hundreds of red balloons filled with cash for the beggars who still flocked there, hoping for alms. In the last month alone, the group had redistributed well over a million euros to Europe’s poor, through balloon drops or less dramatically, by simply depositing cash into the bank accounts of impoverished citizens as well as filling the coffers of various charities and NGOs, particularly in Greece.
Hunter spent his days in Riga working on his story and his nights playing cards. He would have liked to stay longer, but it was too risky. After Romania he’d started using aliases and taking small steps to change his appearance. The CIA would find him eventually, he knew that. He just hoped to stay under the radar long enough to finish his story, to get the truth out there. If . . .
Wheesh! The bullet whistled past Hunter’s left ear. He’d been in enough war zones to recognize that sound, even though the shot itself was silent. Professional. Instinctively Hunter dropped to the ground, scrambling on his hands and knees to the walled side of the alley, away from the glare of the streetlamps. Wheesh! Another shot. This time it clattered against something metal. A trash can, perhaps, up ahead? Or a fencepost.
Hunter looked around him. The narrow streets around Antoine’s apartment were utterly deserted at this time of night. He couldn’t see his attacker, or anyone, in the darkness. His only hope was to run, to try to make it to one of the main streets or squares where he might find safety in numbers.
Sprinting towards Remtes Street, Hunter’s mind spun faster than his legs. He had about $5,000 in his pockets, but he was pretty sure whoever was shooting at him wasn’t interested in money. He’d assumed the Americans wanted him alive—clearly they had back in Bratislava. But something had obviously changed. Unless it wasn’t the CIA. Unless it was . . .
Wheesh! Another shot, and this time he could hear running behind him, boots pounding the cobblestones just like his own. The lights of a tram up ahead shone straight at him, momentarily blinding him. Panicked, Hunter turned around. The last thing he saw was Apollo’s face staring back at him, his sadist’s eyes alight with excitement as he raised the gun. Pointing it between Hunter’s eyes, he calmly pulled the trigger.
SALLY FAIERS WAS DEEP asleep when her mobile rang.
“Can you talk?”
It was the first time she’d heard from Hunter in almost a month. He sounded out of breath and antsy. Probably just climbed out of some married lady’s bedroom window with the husband in hot pursuit. In typical Drexel style he’d asked Sally to do something for him, something complex and time-consuming and of no benefit to her whatsoever, and then gone completely AWOL. Admittedly he was being hounded by the most powerful government on earth, not to mention a group of potentially murderous terrorists. But it was still deeply annoying.
“Did you find anything out? About Major General Frank Dorrien?”
“What part of ‘no’ do you not understand, Hunter? It’s one in the fucking morning.”
“Don’t hang up!” It was a yell, panicked and desperate. For the first time Sally detected real fear in Hunter’s voice. “Please.”
“Where are you?” Her tone softened. “What’s happened?”
“Either you trust me or you don’t,” Sally said angrily, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. “Because if you don’t, I’m done busting my balls for this stupid story of yours. And I’m done keeping your secrets.”
“I’m in Riga,” Hunter said. “Group 99 just tried to kill me.”
He told her about Apollo, his captor in Bratislava and the man who’d shot Bob Daley.
“He was firing right at me. This truck came out of nowhere and blocked the shot. By the time it passed he’d gone.”
“Does he know where you’re staying?”
“I assume so,” Hunter panted. “He must have followed me to the poker night. Unless one of the players tipped him off. In any case I can’t go back to the hotel. I left a bunch of notes there. Research. FUCK!”
Sally sat up in bed. “It’s OK. You’re alive. And it’s all in your head anyway, right?”
“I guess.” Hunter’s breathing began to normalize. “So did you find anything?”
“That depends on your definition of anything,” Sally said, fully awake now. “General Frank didn’t kill Prince Achileas. That much I’m pretty sure of.”
Hunter let out a long, disappointed breath.
“But he does work for MI6. And he’s part of the team that’s looking for you.”
“MI6 is looking for me?”
“Yes,” Sally said. “After Bob Daley’s murder the U.S. and UK governments formed a joint intelligence task force to counter Group 99. As part of the information sharing I guess the Yanks told our boys the truth about what happened in Bratislava, that you’re on the run. They seem to believe you might be in league with Group 99. That your abduction might have been staged.”
Hunter said nothing.
“Was it?” Sally asked.
“I just told you, they tried to kill me,” Hunter said. “What else did you find out?”
“This is all hearsay. But it looks like the Brits are anxious to find you before the Americans do. Your man Frank Dorrien, in particular, doesn’t trust the CIA.”
“We have something in common after all,” Hunter quipped.
“I’m not so sure about that,” Sally said. “The picture I get of Dorrien is of a highly disciplined, deeply conservative man. He disapproved of Prince Achileas. Evidently the boy was gay. General Dorrien may not have killed the boy but he certainly bullied him. You could argue that he drove the poor kid to suicide.”
Hunter wasn’t sure he’d call the privileged Prince of Greece a “poor kid” but he took Sally’s point.
“Achileas did know Bob Daley. They weren’t friends exactly, but they seemed to get along. General Dorrien knew both men, and liked Daley.”
“Bob was easy to like,” said Hunter. This wasn’t the news he’d been hoping to hear about Frank Dorrien. It meant he was going to have to rethink some things. But it was interesting nonetheless, especially the part about the British being on the hunt for him too.
“Hunter?” Sally’s voice sounded very far away suddenly.
“Tell me what you’re working on. Send me your notes, anything, as backup.”
“I can’t do that.”
“You almost got killed tonight,” Sally reminded him. “If you die, do you want this story to die with you?”
“No. But I’d rather it died with me than with you.”
“I don’t understand.”
Hunter said, “It’s not me they’re all trying to bury, Sal. It’s the truth. I can’t put you at risk.”
“I’m putting me at risk,” said Sally.
“Thanks for the help.”
Sally thought about asking him not to hang up, but she knew it would be pointless.
After he rang off she slumped back on her pillow and stared at the ceiling.
What the hell are you up to, Hunter Drexel? What’s this really all about?
She wondered how differently things might have turned out between them if she’d ever been able to trust him.
FRANK DORRIEN WAITED UNTIL his wife was sleeping soundly before creeping out of bed.
Downstairs in his study, he turned the desk lamp on low and switched on Prince Achileas’s laptop. There’d been very little time after the boy died to go through his room. But the Greek’s MacBook Air was vital. Frank had slipped it into his briefcase while the Prince was still swinging. He felt not the slightest twinge of guilt.