© CHAPTER TWO - UNEDITED

©

A travelling alarm clock lay on its side, ticking quietly, serenely oblivious of the surrounding scene of violence. The net curtains floated inwards from the bay window on a gentle breeze, their faint rustling providing an accompaniment to the dolce notes of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. A template of the latticed window appeared intermittently, moving across the white carpet and climbing over the bed, before fading slowly, surrendering the room back to darkness.

   Above a small mahogany dresser standing to one side of the window bay hung a framed photo of a young man standing on the lawn in front of the White House with President Bush. A neat row of tiny bloodspots peppered the glass diagonally.

   An outstretched arm lay across the bedside cabinet, a limp hand dangling over the edge. A small drop of blood formed on the tip of one finger and hung momentarily before falling onto a discarded pair of trousers.

   Paul Westgate lay on his back, his face a mask of sheer terror; his eyes and mouth wide open as though he died screaming while his throat was neatly sliced through. One hand gripped the bone handle of a carving knife buried to the hilt in his chest. His nude body and the cotton sheet he lay on were soaked in blood that was turning black and congealing.

   Outside, across Warwick Square, the breeze stirred through leafy branches in the park as Big Ben, a mile to the east, chimed four times above the Pimlico rooftops.

   As the last chime rang out, Risto Prazina walked quickly and purposefully across the Vauxhall Bridge. Looking quickly over his shoulder as he reached midway, he took a pair of bloody leather gloves wrapped and bound around a small micro recorder from his pocket and threw them into the Thames. Moving on, he told himself to slow down. There was no need to hurry now. Paul wouldn’t be found for several hours; it was Sunday and he wouldn’t be expected at the embassy.

   Risto could still see the frightened look turn to panic and then horror as Paul walked into the bedroom from the shower. It was easy to grab him and throw him onto the bed. He struggled vainly, his head forced back by Risto sitting astride his chest. Paul jerked once as the knife slit his throat deeply. There was no sound save expelled air, and blood hitting the wooden headboard. Sliding backwards, Risto raised the knife again and plunged it into Paul’s chest. Instinctively, Paul grabbed the handle with his dying breath.

   Their first meeting was at the embassy six months beforehand, during a luncheon break from talks between Ambassador Garrett and overseas aid charities, including the charity Risto represented, Save the Starving. The Middle East peace talks were still in progress but near a successful conclusion. The Ambassador was asked by the participating parties to co-ordinate the various charities into a workable, efficient organization that would be ready to act the moment the peace agreement was signed. Risto was sent to London under the guise of chairman of the Yugoslavian charity. His real mission was gathering useful information for Belgrade.

   While different charities held meetings in various rooms, Garrett and his staff moved from one group to the other, listening, giving advice and arguing a point. At his elbow had been a young man Risto instantly admired. He was good looking, intelligent, had the Ambassador’s ear - and was gay. Within three days Paul agreed to meet him at a gay club in Mayfair, a small discreet wine bar. A couple of weeks later they were having an affair and Paul was collecting information.

   Risto convinced him that what was needed was gossip, any gossip such as who was seen with whom and where, behind the hand remarks of staff about their superiors and so on. He’d told Paul it was gossip he got well paid for by his brother who worked as a journalist, one of the continental paparazzi, for an Italian magazine. He agreed to halve the payments he received with Paul. Of course, he didn’t want any sensitive information. He knew Paul was a loyal American and didn’t want him to get into any trouble. He gave Paul the micro recorder and told him to place it near dinner tables or anywhere staff and guests talked socially. By the time the talks ended, Risto knew the Ambassador’s wife had problems with her kidneys, the chef hated cooking for the French and that Britain, America, Israel and the Spaniards suspected Belgrade of plotting something with Iraq. Everyone suspected everyone else of something. The world of diplomacy was as healthy as ever. He learned nothing new. That was until now.

   Sitting in the bedroom while Paul showered, he listened to the tape and got

the shock of his life. The Americans and Israeli’s could never be underestimated. He wasn’t aware that the supply of arms to the Palestinians had been linked to Yugoslavia. His office had to be informed right away. It wouldn’t take Israel long to realize it wasn’t only Belgrade they had to worry about if the supply route was found.

   A year earlier, as he flew home from Iraq, he overheard a conversation between the Foreign Minister and two army generals. A small terrorist group calling themselves the PFA was the subject of a discussion with some of Saddam Hussein’s army advisors. Iraq had found an organization willing to smuggle arms to Belgrade provided Belgrade delivered certain types of arms to the PFA. A short time after that conversation, Prazina had been summoned to headquarters and got involved in the arrangements. How the Americans found out about this was unimportant. What was important was letting Belgrade know right away. The rest of the information on the tape would secure Risto early retirement on a million dollars.

   President Egzon Mikulic continued to control neighboring Bosnia after the cessation of hostilities and it was becoming obvious that certain factions in his army and an increasingly disillusioned public wanted him out. Bosnia was financially crippled and showed no signs of economic growth whilst UN sanctions stayed in place. Food was short and unemployment was high. Like Jugovic, the ex Yugoslavian President, he and some of his generals had been named as war criminals. Unlike Jugovic, Mikulic had planned his escape in the event of his eventual downfall. After lodging most of Bosnia’s exchequer in a private Swiss account, he arranged a safe passage for himself and his family to St Petersburg, where the Russians promised him a home.

   That was before the peace talks began and the Russians got involved with America. The Kremlin was unlikely to welcome Mikulic with open arms while the West considered him a war criminal: less so while they were filling their pockets with dollars. Mikulic saw the net closing around him and the prospect of a trial at The Haig loomed on the horizon unless he could give the Russians something they would be very grateful to receive - something they could not refuse.

   A million dollars was discreetly offered to those in the Bosnian and Yugoslavian secret services that were sympathetic to Mikulic, to find that “something”. Risto was very sympathetic. The surprise information on the tape would secure Mikulic a safe haven and give the Russians an opportunity to blackmail the Americans any way they liked. Mikulic could have St Petersburg. Risto wanted Monte Carlo and out of the poverty that was Yugoslavia.

   Paul Westgate’s fate was sealed while he showered. He casually asked if the reference to an Amber Room discussed on the tape referred to lost Russian treasure. Risto couldn’t let him run around with such knowledge. For a million dollars he would do anything to keep the information to himself. This was one killing he regretted but one that was necessary to fulfil his own personal dream of freedom.

   He reached the other end of the bridge and skipped down the steps to Vauxhall tube station. Just outside the main entrance were two illuminated telephone kiosks. He looked at his watch. It was be 5.15 in Sarajevo and the president would be up having an early breakfast of eggs and lightly toasted wholemeal bread, Sunday or not. He got up at the crack of dawn every day, a necessary precaution during the war and one that was now part of his daily routine.

   Belgrade advised its agents on anything that happened in their neighbor’s backyard, particularly the latest movements of potentially dangerous political misfits, aligning themselves from one party to another in a constantly changing political landscape that was gradually reshaping Eastern Europe. Although bedfellows in crime, neither trusted the other and both kept a wary eye open.               

   Pushing a phone card into the slot, Risto hunched his shoulders and shivered, visualizing the knife cutting through Paul’s throat again. Without thinking, he punched the number that would connect him to the Bosnian Central Army Communications Center. Upon giving a certain phrased code, he would be allowed to speak to one of the senior intelligence officers at the center. They would understand his message for Mikulic was important enough that it had to be delivered by mouth, albeit not a threat to national security but none-the-less, still of utmost priority. They would also know he was a Belgrade operative and treat him cautiously. A meeting would have to be arranged within forty-eight hours.

   He listened for the faint tones at the other end of the line while studying dozens of call-girl ads stuck to the wall around the phone. A pigeon fluttered to the ground outside and began pecking inside a discarded hamburger carton. Clicking his fingers, Risto waited impatiently.          

   “Hello.”

   The clearness of the voice in his ear startled him.

   “Hello?”

   “Yes, hello. Can I speak to the manager, please? It’s George. I wish to book a table for two.”

   There was a pause, then, “Putting you through, George.”

   He waited several seconds before another voice, much deeper, spoke. “Yes, George, you have an order for a table?”

   “Yes, I’m sure my guest will find the menu very appealing. And so will his

friends in St Petersburg. I have information regarding something they are desperate to

retrieve. Tell the President – Amber, Amber on the wall, I know where you are, I could reveal all.”

   “Just hold please.”

   There was a pause. Risto watched two middle aged women walk past, chatting noisily

as they made their way toward the New Covent Garden flower market. Several florists

supply vans and a motorcycle turned out of Wandsworth Road and sped off.

   “Hello?”

   “Yes.”

   “Your table will be reserved. Be in Berlin later this morning and call

again to confirm arrangements.”

   The line went dead and Risto punched another number for his contact in Belgrade. He’d send them a copy of the part of the tape that concerned them, nothing more. Mikulic could have it all though. Information on his neighbors as well as a present for the Kremlin would be irresistible.         

   Berlin was much more civilized he thought, much more than Sarajevo. No young men carrying guns in the street, no poverty, no lack of medicine or food. People of all cultures and religions shouting and laughing across dinner tables at each other instead of hiding behind walls with Kalashnikovs. The Germans destroyed the wall separating families and friends and with it the last vestiges of enforced segregation. One million dollars would insure him a future away from a country that was slowly breaking up and destroying itself - and him along with it. He sighed with anticipation.

   Five minutes later, he headed for a bedsit in Nine Elms.

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