Code of Silence

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Chapter 28

I hadn’t a clue where Khan was headed to as we left London to travel back to the university. He’d waved us off at the rear of the NCA building as the security gates opened. A black unmarked police car had driven us out of the compound and into the fresh early evening, skies darkening above, cloud cover reflecting the amber glow of the street lighting as it spread across the city.

I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket and checked it for messages. I’d had a voicemail but from a number I didn’t recognise.

“What should I do?” I asked, leaning into the gap between the front seats to check with the officers.

“Just listen to it, but please make sure you don’t delete it,” came the calm reply from the officer in the passenger seat. The driver just looked at me as I caught his eye in the rear view mirror.

I pressed the voicemail icon and listened. It was a message from the liaison officer who had looked after us at the NCA offices during the meeting. He was trying to follow up on something with Professor Khan but hadn’t been able to contact him. He wanted to check that he had the correct number for him, and whether I had an alternative contact number at the university. He requested that I call him back.

I explained this to the officers and was asked to make the call. It was answered immediately by a voicemail greeting from the liaison officer. I cleared my throat and sat upright, ready to leave a message, thinking that I could do without the audience.

“Hi, it’s Joel here. Err … you just left a message for me. Uh, yes, that’s the number I have for Professor Khan, but if you need to speak to me then, uh, please call back. Thanks. Thank you. Bye.”

I ended the call. It was embarrassing, and I made sure I avoided catching the eye of the officers again. Turning to Alex I shrugged my shoulders, puzzled.

***

As the main gates closed, Khan shook hands with the suited gentleman who had escorted him to the exit, politely declined a lift and wandered up the side of the building to the pedestrian gate and out onto the main street. Turning right, he approached a line of taxis waiting outside a small hotel, nodding at the driver in the first one who switched the roof light off as Khan opened the door and stepped in.

“Heathrow, terminal three, please,” said Khan, positioning his cabin bag so that it didn’t fall over as the taxi made tight U-turn in the street. After a poor night’s sleep on the flight over and a long day, he was feeling exhausted. Sitting through the retelling of the last few day’s events not once, but twice, had been draining.

He was glad they’d been able to meet with the people they needed to see. Joel and Alex had been able to share the detail of their recent experiences, which had provided vital insight for the police to work with. He felt for Theo. It was obvious he’d matured a great deal when Khan had seen him at the conference, but to find himself in a similar position to his father must be absolutely terrifying for him.

The taxi driver checked with Khan about his flight time, and made sure they were headed for the right terminal. Khan consulted the airline app; the ticket he’d booked at the hotel was open, and it looked as though he’d be able to get on the last flight out that day. He selected the flight number and pressed to confirm.

He checked for messages, a couple of texts and two unknown missed calls, nothing too urgent that couldn’t wait until he was killing time in the departure lounge. He switched his phone to silent and relaxed into the warm leather seat, watching the pulsating brake lights of the cars and buses around him.

Traffic in the city was slow as the taxi made its way across town. It would be a good forty minutes or so before he arrived. It was time to unwind and to reflect on what had turned out to be an extremely eventful day. Khan could feel his eyes were heavy but fought off any notions of taking a nap. His head was full of thoughts, it felt like it was bursting with ideas. He was excited, he was nervous, he was potentially on the brink of something big. Bigger than anything else he’d been involved in before, or would ever get the chance to be involved in again. As they reached the airport perimeter roads Khan checked he had everything, cabin bag, laptop case, jacket with passport and everything safely tucked away. The taxi pulled up, he passed the driver two banknotes and told him to keep the change.

It was fresher now, and a brisk wind whipped down the main passenger access route. He headed straight across the pedestrian walkway, his cabin bag wheels bumping and rumbling rhythmically across the raised black and white crossing zone. Once inside the revolving doors he could feel the warmth of the airport as it mixed with the fresh air from outside. The airport was a throng of activity, busy as usual.

He paused briefly to look for the flight details on the large screen above the departures area. It was all fine and on time, but with no gate notification yet. That wasn’t a problem: he was in no rush. The route through departures and security was as tortuous as ever, but he knew the drill. Heart beating faster than usual, he stepped through the metal detector and waited to collect his luggage.

As his cabin bag and the tray containing his devices emerged from the scanner, he started to panic. His heart raced as he noticed four armed police officers striding towards the security lanes. A passenger on the far side of the security hall had been stopped, and was asked to attend further questioning. There were raised voices as an altercation attracted everyone’s attention, and a man was escorted towards the security rooms to the side. Khan recognised the language being spoken as Russian, but thought nothing of it, instead keeping his head down and studiously monitoring his possessions as they moved towards him on the conveyor belt. Collecting his bag and belongings, he slid his watch back on, replaced his belt and checked that his wallet, documents and phone were safe in his jacket.

Ignoring the duty-free shopping zone, he looked for the airline’s executive lounge area, and entered the door being held open by a smartly dressed steward. The lounge area was dimly lit and furnished to a high standard. He was greeted by another steward who showed him to a large leather sofa with a low table in front of it. There was time to relax for a bit now before boarding. He ordered a drink and snack, before handing the menu back to the steward. This was the way to travel. Eventually, the update for his transatlantic flight was displayed on the departures screen on the wall above, and he gathered his belongings before heading for the gate.

As he boarded the plane, Khan turned left and located his seat. His jacket lay beside him in the business class cabin. He stowed his cabin bag and laptop above and below his seat respectively, and was ready to settle in for the night. A stewardess approached him with a complimentary drink which he gratefully accepted; a large glass of red wine would help him drift off pretty quickly, he hoped. He glanced around the cabin, then reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out his phone. No messages, but two more missed calls were indicated. He set it to airplane mode and placed it to the side of him on the arm of his chair.

Out of habit, he checked his jacket for his passport and wallet too. Further down, was another zippered pocket from which he pulled a small leather pouch. He looked around the cabin again and took out another device. The SED was still safe in his hands. It had been since they left the hotel. It would be a while before anyone figured it out, and by that time the SED wouldn’t exist anymore. No SED meant no fingerprints, no serial numbers and no way of tracking down the unique and priceless coding information that had been securely stored on it. As far as anyone else was concerned Khan would say that he had left it on the table in the meeting room at the NCA, so it should be there somewhere.

This was his chance to put things right. He’d been stabbed in the back by Andrei Petranov when they set up their technology business in Russia all those years ago. He’d worked hard on the gaming phenomenon, and Andrei took all the credit and eventually a huge sum of money, selling out to a Japanese software giant at the height of the video gaming craze in the 1990s. Then, during his time in the USA, he’d invested all of his energy in the CITS projects and had turned down lucrative salary offers from big businesses, choosing instead to help his academic colleagues develop groundbreaking voice solutions as new technologies emerged. To then become a victim of budget cuts and restructures had been a bitter pill to swallow. As was knowing that the big corporate predators were now circling, seeking to buy the American university’s valuable assets in which he once had a share.

This was his time. He’d met with the right people and heard the right proposals. He now had the tools as well as the technology and could quickly help these innovative and voracious businesses spring from nowhere. They would make huge advances ahead of their contemporaries, building stock market valuations on a scale that had never been seen before. The challenges were exciting and the financial rewards would be incredible. This was his chance, and this time he was going to make sure that nobody stood in his way.

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