Guardians

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Chapter 56

Colonel Zuyev was not entirely surprised when he was summoned to General Biriuzov’s office. Flying out of Ugransky he’d somehow expected they’d meet again.

The reason for this particular meeting was a mystery, however. Though he knew the General by name (he was, after all, the number three man in the organization), he was something of an unknown quantity to Zuyev, who’d never spoken to or been spoken to by him before he appeared in Stepanenkov’s office. His initial appearance had impressed Zuyev, but when in the following days he didn’t hear that Stepanenkov had “retired” from his post (preferably, with a bullet in the back of the head) he worried that Biriuzov was just another corrupt senior officer after all. That he’d come in simply to cut him off, insuring the continued selling-out of the country. And perhaps that he also meant to punish him, demote him, even discharge him from the armed forces . . .

Zuyev tried not to think about the possibility as he approached Biriuzov’s office, to project the same confidence he had felt while confronting Stepanenkov.

On the other side of the door Biriuzov seemed very hospitable to him, even congratulatory. Zuyev didn’t let himself relax too much, though. He knew that this could be just a game before he lowered the boom on him.

But then Biriuzov told him they’d identified the man responsible for the theft of the ellipton, and marked him for assassination. He wanted Zuyev to go to London himself and see to the matter personally. As for Stepanenkov . . . he’d most certainly transgressed, and he would pay for that transgression. However, some usefulness could as yet be wrung out of him before then.

Zuyev felt satisfied with this, and concentrated his attention on the practical details of the task given him, studying the intelligence provided them on the man he was to assassinate, who was exactly the kind of criminal who wasn’t regarded as a criminal at all in the West. Not just a plutocrat, but a Lord of all things! The insane reluctance to let go of such feudal baggage was one aspect of British culture he didn’t think he’d ever understand.

In his country there were people who now spoke of bringing back the czar, but he didn’t think they would ever be more than a crank fringe. They were a more sensible, more civilized people in that respect than these Englishmen who regarded themselves as the last word in decency. Piracy, slavery, smuggling, opium-running and the despoliation of whole continents – that was the foundation of the British Empire, behind all the pomp and the frippery over which the fools fawned, the high-minded rhetoric and haughty disdain which impressed the weak-minded.

Once Zuyev’s preparations were complete, he boarded a commercial flight at Shermetyevo that took him to Heathrow. After clearing customs he stashed the luggage he’d brought along for show, stowing only a small case under his coat before catching a cab into the city.

Sitting in the back of the taxi, looking out the windows, he was struck by an array of familiar sights. Back when he’d been posted here one of his jobs had been to check out the defenses surrounding the cruise missile wing the Americans had deployed to a British air base fifty miles west of the capital, so he’d not only covered a lot of miles in the metropolitan area, but ventured into surrounding counties as well.

Zuyev gave the driver an address in Kensal Green as his destination, and they parted ways there. After the cabbie went back on his way the Russian caught a bus to Ladbroke Grove, where he located the ’91 Toyota Camry sedan a member of the GRU’s London Residency had left for him. After making sure no one was keeping a lookout for him he got inside and drove it to Hampstead Heath.

Zuyev found a place to park, then slid the case out of his coat pocket and opened it across his lap. It contained the components of a spray gun that crushed a cyanide capsule to fire a jet of gas. A target’s inhalation of the substance would induce an immediate, massive and almost certainly fatal heart attack, which was what MacDougal’s death would be taken for.

He assembled the weapon, then got out of the car and continued the rest of the way across this empty stretch of heath on foot, toward MacDougal’s Georgian mansion, just one among many in the area. As he had hoped, it proved a simple thing to bypass the alarm securing the window he had selected as his point of entry. Once past it he continued moving quietly, sidestepping a doddering old butler, and finding his way to the room identified in the diagram as the study.

As he had been told was probable the light was on in there, and standing in the darkened hallway he could see in the illuminated rectangle of the study’s open door an old man sitting behind a desk, poring over books that looked even older.

Zuyev compared the man’s face to his recollection of MacDougal from the file photographs and assured himself that he had the right man. Then he advanced into the room and quietly shut the door behind him.

The sound made the old man look up. He started to say something, but Zuyev cut him off with a gesture, given additional weight by the weapon he held level in his hand.

The elderly man closed his mouth.

“You are Lord Christopher MacDougal?” Zuyev asked.

“Of course I am.”

“You sent Pickford to Russia. To get the ellipton.”

MacDougal studied him for a bit. “What is any of this to you?” he asked when he finally spoke.

“Please answer the question.”

“Yes,” he said.

Zuyev pulled the trigger, then watched MacDougal clutch at his chest, screaming silently.

When MacDougal stopped moving Zuyev made sure he was dead, then left the way he had come, recrossing the heath in the opposite direction. He got in his car, and returned his car to exactly the spot where he’d found it for recovery and proper sanitizing. He then proceeded to scatter the components of his dismantled acid gun, dropping the different pieces into trash cans as he walked along, and returned to the airport to catch his flight back home to his country and his loved ones.

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