The Bulgarian ambassador is found eviscerated in his London quarters, and Major Sonja Slade of the Prussian Army searches for his killer while trying to forget her own ties to the dead man.


Week 21

Slade, The Officer

They sit on a bench on the north bank of the Thames, just past the Temple. A small smoke-stacked tug is making its way along the river. She waits for him to speak. He taps out his pipe on the heel of his shoe, refills it from his mottled leather pouch, lights it with a long match and pulls gently on it.

“I have the information you requested,” he says, still staring out at the river.

They are sitting more than an arm’s length apart. A passer-by might not even think they were together.

“Hard to come by?” she asks the concrete balustrade.

“Not really,” he says, “I knew this one by heart anyway. I branded it in myself, in days gone by.” She can just see out of her peripheral vision that he is smiling, faintly.

He pulls a paper bag out of his pocket, tips a handful of crumbs into his palm, scatters them in a wide circle around him. Two pigeons swoop down from the bridge to feast. He crumples up the paper bag and tosses it into the dustbin.

She is carrying a newspaper. She watches a launch stop on the far side of the river to pick up passengers. She glances at the headlines then idly stands, leans forward, places the newspaper into the dustbin. One would have to be watching very hard to see her palm the paper bag as her hand goes down.

They wait. Three children walk by with their nanny. Two of the children have balloons, the other is crying noisily.

“Well you should have let me tie it to you!” the nanny scolds as they pass.

“Children are such a blessing,” says Scrivener.

Slade says nothing. Her hand is in her pocket, smoothing out the paper bag. When she pulls it out again, the line of letters and numbers scrawled along the top edge are facing up, the rest folded underneath.

“No address?” she says.

“I’m sure you and your people will have very clever ways of working all that out,” says Scrivener. “That’s all you need.”

“And you know it’s him how?”

“I know,” says Scrivener.

She risks a glance at his face. He is impassive. Noticeably older than when she’d last seen him, but looking well on it. Someone is taking care of Mr Scrivener.

“So you’re willing to give him up?”

“I’ve been informed he’s threatened you. We value our alliances.”

She understands. No one would give her this particular string of letters and numbers if they didn’t want their owner dead.

“What do I owe you?” she says.

He smiles again, just faintly.

“Come now,” he says, “this is a gesture of good faith.”

It is this that alerts her, perhaps. These rather puzzling words which make her muscles tense and senses sharpen. She counts up the number of useful victims and suspects that have been placed in her path since Bojilov died. Kitty Kinsey. Vasilev. The magister in the stables. Now Hausmann. Too easy.

A long black car pulls up in the parking place next to them.

“Ah,” he says, “my car. I must be off, I’m afraid. Lovely to see you as ever, Commander.”

He reaches out to pat her right hand in farewell.

She feels a tiny scratch on the back of her hand.

And without consciously deciding to do so, she has brought the heel of her other hand down on the back of his and is pulling the middle finger back as far as it will go. Further than it will go. A tiny gasp of pain croaks from the back of his throat. She pulls it back further.

Anyone watching casually might think they were holding hands.

A trickle of blood runs down the side of her hand to the crook of her thumb and forefinger. That’s not his blood, it’s hers. He had a needle. A tiny quantity of her blood would be valuable to someone. She pulls out her right hand. The needle, with its little bulb on the end, is still attached to her like a bee sting.

The car revs its engine once.

“I should warn you,” says Scrivener through gritted teeth, “the driver is armed.”

“I would have paid you,” she says, “if you’d asked a fair price.”

“We don’t deal with Prussians,” he says.

So she breaks his finger.

She is over the balustrade and into the waiting launch before the driver has even left the car.

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